Stephen Finlay’s Screaming Inside can be summed up by three words: Moving, riveting, and brutally honest, ok that’s four but you get the idea. This was the highlight of my trip to Brighton, mainly because Shane Armstrong’s performance as Stuart was simply spectacular.
Stuart is the “unluckiest man in the world”, so called by the newspaper after he fails to join his colleagues in buying a winning lottery ticket. From a young age he has been the victim of sexual abuse, his mother was killed by his abuser- ‘uncle George’, he’s lonely and he spent most of his life under the thumb of the social services. Screaming Inside depicts one year of Stuart’s miserable life.
The play is structured around fragmented monologues that each take place on a different calendar event; Stuart’s birthday, Christmas, mother’s day, Halloween etc. As each day passes we learn more and more about the mind frame of what turns out to be a very sad man, whose own traumas cause him to abduct a little girl and thus become an abuser.
Each monologue is delivered to a small camera on a tripod, the presence of which accentuates the feeling that we are peering into the life of a man, watching his gradual decline from the outside.
The set also made me feel as though I was a fly on the wall of a man, who was about to kill himself. In fact, I haven’t seen the fourth wall so brilliantly preserved in a long time, and in this post post postmodern era it certainly is a rare occurrence. The set was built to look like a typical dank and dim basement flat, complete with old books on the shelf, a slightly dead looking plant pot and race cars on the bed spread. This was exactly the way I would imagine the flat of a man like Stuart to look. The juxtaposition between his business suit and the toy cars stuck on the side of his bunk bed portrayed him as a little boy stuck in the body of a man, a child who had been forced to grow up way too soon and who never recovered from the consequences.
Another excellent element that contributed to Shane Armstrong’s already brilliant character construction was the food. The play began with Stuart emptying out his shopping: porridge, bake beans, bread, ketchup, one can of beer, some Mr Kipling Cakes and some candles to celebrate the fact that this was his birthday: for me this shopping is the epitome of depression and loneliness. Celebrating your birthday by blowing out a single candle in a Mr Kipling Cake, after having sung “happy birthday to me” into the lens of a camera has to be the saddest way to spend your birthday, and this moment epitomises the way in which Finlay’s script skilfully combines dark humour with tragedy.
Stuart’s character is one that we hear of in the news, one that we see the face of but never remember their names; one that we like to think doesn’t exist in our society but unfortunately is one that we hear about more and more often. The Brighton Theatre Collective addressed this tricky topic with sensitivity and imagination. I definitely think that this brilliant one man show deserves the title of ‘best pick of the pack’ at Brighton Fringe 2012.