Photo: Brian Theng
This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 11 May 2016.
If you’ve ever been self-absorbed, and, more importantly, if you’ve ever felt guilty about how self-absorbed you are, then this is the play for you. A strange, earnest and self-aware one-man show, Me & Mike is a story of one young man’s insecurities, and the conversations he has with himself. Technically ambitious and structurally unconventional, this is a well-intentioned play which pulls off its goals admirably, although your appreciation of it will likely depend on the extent to which the main character’s problems mirror your own.
The entire play is set inside the flat, and more importantly inside the head, of our nameless main character, played by Will Stevens. He reflects on, among other things, the nature of the universe, the frustrations of job interview technique, and the sexiness of Peter Mandelson. He also talks about his boyfriend, the mysterious and never-seen Mike, and watches archive footage of political debates about the Vietnam war. He talks to the audience about his fears and insecurities. And… that’s about it. The play is technically involved, with multiple video and sound projections and constant trickery with the lights, but the actual content is very straightforward. The audience is simply left in the company of a young man who is, by his own admission, “pretentious and narcissistic”, but who has an awkward charm with it, and the script imbues him with enough humanity to not make him absolutely insufferable.
Helping all of this is a phenomenal performance by Will Stevens. Previously known for his comedic roles, Stevens dials down the outward charm and obvious wise-cracking to give us a vulnerable, sensitive performance. His line-readings are inflected with tragicomic despair, his awkward gait and shabby costume giving him an outwardly pathetic appearance, but with a hint of a deeper intelligence beneath it all. Stevens is playing a character both fiercely intelligent and deeply repressed, inarticulate but fundamentally decent. Tasked with carrying the entire emotional weight of the play, he accomplishes it with aplomb.
Me & Mike is not the most polished script or production. There were serious audio problems on the opening night performance, and the ending is too abrupt to really satisfy. It would be easy to write the play off as the experience of listening to a privileged white boy whingeing for half an hour, but I’d be lying if I said the main character’s experiences and frustrations were a million miles from my own. So give Me & Mike a go – it’s the weaker of the two shows at the BT this week, but this is still an engaging and heartfelt show, starring one of the best actors in the Oxford student scene.