This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 25 February 2015.
Captain Amazing is perhaps best described as Alan Moore by way of Mark Evans. Touching, clever and frequently hilarious, this new one man show provides an excellent showcase for actor Andrew Dickinson.
The play is presented as a series of vignettes involving young Dad, Mark, and his relationship with his wife and young daughter, as his life slowly goes off the rails over the course of the show, intercut with absurdist sketches about superheroes. The mix of social realism and raucous parody is an odd one at first, but things get better as the play goes on, and the two start to bleed into each other in compelling ways. The fantasy world of the superhero is injected with more mature overtones- we see an estate agent trying to sell a volcano base, and Batman complains about his car being towed. This also goes the other way, and the ‘real world’ is defined in child-like terms, and every scene is illustrated by projections of crayon drawings onto a screen with which our hero shares the stage. Playwright Alistair McDowall is not just shunting these two genres together for the sake of it, and the two clash and complement each other in fascinating ways.
Of course, none of this would work without some serious acting ability, and leading man Andrew Dickinson has it in spades. He performs the various roles required of him with arresting conviction, slipping effortlessly from broad comedy and funny voices to understated and poignant character moments, all while maintaining a consistent on-stage persona. Mark is a character who flits between the world of fantasy and the world of reality, and Dickinson convinces us that he belongs in both.
Unfortunately, while Dickinson’s performance is layered and subtle, the production is rather less so. The aforementioned children’s drawings work well, but the sound design is often intrusive and obnoxious, when it’s not being thunderingly obvious- the scene involving Mark’s divorce from his wife is introduced with the sound effect of a loud ripping sound, which is very hard not to laugh at, and which undercuts an otherwise brilliant scene.
The play’s climax is also a let-down, with the directors opting to depict Mark’s mental trauma with a series of overlapping voice clips- again, it just reeks of a lack of imagination, which is a poor fit for such an inventive script. Mind you, McDowall isn’t above reproach- a few of the gags ring a bit hollow, and he indulges in some Inbetweeners-level swearing, which doesn’t even manage to match up to that dubious standard of comedy.
But I defy anyone not to be moved by Dickinson’s final monologue, and he allows the play to end on a high note. And really, despite the flawed production and occasionally wobbly script, Captain Amazing remains an immensely good-hearted play, and worth seeing for Dickinson’s performance alone. Captain Amazing is occasionally in danger of coming crashing to earth, but for most of the time, it soars.