Whilst the audience slowly trickles into The Otherplace’s main room, a sole man occupies the stage. He is on his knees, his head submerged in a bucket of water. After slightly too long for comfort he yanks himself back and gasps for air. He looks to the guy in the tech booth and asks whether everyone is in yet. He receives a solemn shake of the head. Something resembling pain flashes across his face before he again submerges himself.
The masochist in question is Douglas Walker, and this amusing yet slightly disquieting introduction sets the tone for tonight’s show: a left field hour of fun entitled Möglich (that’s ‘Possible’ in German, fact fans). Walker is perhaps best known for his involvement in the critically acclaimed improv troupe Racing Minds and is also an an erstwhile member of the Oxford Imps and Off the Cuff (hence his performance here tonight). Möglich is his first solo show, though given the impressive confidence and craftsmanship displayed tonight, this is a surprise. Once everyone is in, Walker ends the waterboarding. Before beginning in earnest he explains that he was drowning himself to demonstrate that comedians are in fact real people, people who can be hurt by harsh words and missiles lobbed by the audience. Furthermore, this real pain is particularly important to consider tonight given the esteem in which he views his art form. Although this section is, to some extent, tongue in cheek (he berates an audience member for hypothetically punching him), his investment and esteem for the form are evident in his performance.
The meat of the show consists of one man sketches broken up by occasional addressing of the audience and short, bizarre stories told from a pitch black stage. Highlights include a Shakespearian rendition of Chuck D’s first verse from ‘Bring the Noise’, an actor recollecting the devious pranks he pulled off in his glory days, a discussion of a particularly risible rock, and a lollipop man with bold ambitions to cross a motorway. It’s a testament to Walker’s comedic acting that he manages elicit laughs from each sketch and yet have each character clearly defined, not relying on obvious jokes and crutches. He manages this with minimal costume changes – a tie/no tie, rolled-up/unrolled sleeves – and an impressive array of accents (I personally found it difficult to tell which was his natural voice by the end). A later sketch also hints at Walker’s ability for ‘serious’ acting. He sits upon a chair and details how he, a war correspondent, was abducted and tortured for an extended period; how he was broken both physically and mentally. This section is utterly believable and harrowing, and clearly makes the audience uncomfortable. Thankfully Walker provides a punchline worthy of the build-up.
In sum, Möglich is an impressive first time solo show hinting at great things for Walker’s future. Thankfully this performance at Off the Cuff’s tenth anniversary isn’t the last time the show shall come to Brighton: Walker is scheduled to return to The Otherplace on October 31st. I’d highly recommend purchasing a ticket.