Having spent months as Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, grappling with the giant ego and unsavoury habits of DCI Gene Hunt, John Simm now finds himself in another oddball partnership. This time his character wakes up not in 1973 but in a cupboard. Simm plays Elling, one half of a pair of social misfits who meet in a psychiatric hospital. At their first meeting, Elling steps out of said cupboard and Kjell Bjarne is wearing no trousers. Yet they hit it off and this curious but very touching comedy follows their adventures as they are released into “normal” life.
The story (based on a novel by Ingvar Ambjornsen) has become a cult Norwegian film – which is no guarantee of a successful transition to stage. And at first, its premise of finding comedy in damaged individuals seems in dubious taste. But it soon wins you over. You realise you are laughing with, not at, the characters, and their perplexed approach to contemporary life seems increasingly reasonable. Simon Bent’s stage adaptation and Paul Miller’s production are so sympathetic and so absurdly, poignantly funny that you become deeply attached to the two men, willing them on.
Simm and Adrian Bower (pictured below) are beautifully paired as the unlikely lads. Simm, small, trim and tidy, gives a masterclass in inch- perfect acting as Elling, the prim agoraphobic. Elling’s over-possessive mother has died, leaving him so traumatised that a simple trip to the shops must be negotiated as if it were an assault on the Eiger. So when he evolves into an “underground poet”, and takes to smuggling poems into supermarkets in packets of sauerkraut, you feel like cheering. When he finally smiles, it’s like spring arriving. Kjell Bjarne, meanwhile, is his opposite, a hulking great bear of a man, driven by a frantic lust for sex – but actually by a desperate need for affection – and Bower brings a touching innocence to this gentle giant. Ingrid Lacey, Keir Charles and Jonathan Cecil offer strong support. This strange, humane little play is an unexpected winner.
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