Wednesday, May 02, 2007
“Wasn’t that wonderful?” said the woman next to me as the house lights went up, and I had to concede that it was.
I was at the cosy Bush Theatre to see odd couple comedy Elling, a play based on a cult Norwegian film, adapted for the stage by Simon Bent and directed by Paul Miller. A play that happens to star John Simm, which of course had nothing to do with my decision to see it - no, I was here through a love of live theatre. Not to see That Thing With John Simm In It. Well maybe a little bit. But I was definitely not here because of Life on Mars, as, due to a mild phobia of that evil test-card girl and to over-praised telly in general, I only ever watched about an episode and half of that. My Simm obsession stems from watching Tony Marchant’s Never, Never and Paul Abbot’s brilliant State Of Play. So I am obviously better than all those people here to see that bloke from Life On Mars. Obviously.
Anyway, Elling is a good-natured comedy about two of society’s outsiders who, having been released from a mental institution, have to work out how to adjust to living independently. Simm plays Elling, a prissy self-declared mummy’s boy, prone to story-telling, who hides in wardrobes when things get too much for him. He wears sensible beige trousers that match his sensible side-parting and is the antithesis of his friend Kjell Bjarne, played by Adrian Bower, a lanky, hairy chap, who dislikes washing and wearing trousers, and who says “Holy Shit” a lot. Bjarne, that is, not Bower.
Given a flat to live in by the state and assigned to a social worker, the two men soon discover the joys of phone sex and takeout pizza and, with the help of a heavily pregnant woman and an aging poet, actually start to reengage with the world. Elling discovers poetry, and the fact that he may have some real talent, and Bjarne gets to touch a real live woman who doesn’t immediately have him arrested.
With his prim measured way of speaking and pink-scrubbed face, Simm is barely rescognisable, completely wrapped up in his character. The bond between the two men is touchingly and entertainingly conveyed, with Simm having a great rapport with the amiable Bower, and the play is stuffed with highly quotable dialogue - lines with more than a touch of the Withnails to them, like: “Mother did the shopping, I was in charge ideology.”
Elling is warm and compelling and a pleasure to watch. This was delightful stuff, very funny but with an occasional edge of poignancy, and it left me so uplifted that even the interminable journey from Shepherds Bush back home seemed more of a pleasure than a chore; indeed I positively bounced to the bus stop.