I’m your Man – Project Arts Centre – Review by Cormac Fitzgerald
I’m your Man is a raw and bristling portrait of heartache and psychological trauma; a physical and emotional rollercoaster through a surreal world of supermarket epiphanies and seemingly unending darkness. Half play, half live concert musical, it is an ambitious new telling of a familiar story, and while it doesn’t always get it right, it is an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
The piece is structured around 12 songs that chart the emotional and psychic journey of the fictional composer Matthew (composer and lyricist, Mark Palmer), following an intense period of depression. The stage is a black and white striped floor laid out with instruments: electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, a drum kit and a few microphones are all used by Matthew’s five-piece band to play out the songs of his sorrow, while Matthew himself conducts the pieces from the dead end of nowhere to the renewal of hope and beyond.
The songs themselves are a mixed bag. An intensely personal outpouring from composer Palmer gives them extra lift but some of the pieces stand out more than others. As the time passes some of the songs seem to meld into one another and it’s hard to make sense of what’s going on in each. This is offset, however, by the songs that stick out and generate a real sense of the physical and emotional wonderment that the performers are always striving for. The middle song (‘Sleeping with Elvis’), is a sexually charged explosion of hedonistic decadence as Matthew seeks to destroy the beast that has been haunting him. It is brilliantly executed and breaks away from the play as a super-charged rebuttal to all things reserved and conservative. Other songs hit emotional notes that resonate strongly throughout the performance: The heartfelt beauty and defiance of ‘Not Going to Hell’ – sung by Ruth McGill – invokes the ambiguity of heartbreak, while the ‘Song of Unending Love’ is an honest and open hearted assurance to second chances. Unfortunately, however, many of the other songs don’t create that stirring emotional response, and as a result the entire piece doesn’t create that bond between audience and performer needed to bring it fully off.
As for the performers, many are musicians who haven’t acted before, but they do a good job by and large (especially during the songs). Palmer himself is brilliant as the composer; his conducting of the strings of his own heartache and redemption gives the piece its only moments of the truly sublime.
In between the songs, the script by Phillip McMahon (also director) is dark and unrelenting. The imagery used in the talking sections is occasionally repetitive, and with the performers better suited to music, it sometimes feels as though we’re just filling in the space between two songs.
The lighting design by Mark Galione is superbly executed, giving a visual splendour to the stage that greatly enhances the performance and Emma Fraser’s costume design is spot on. However, when you add it up, I’m your Man doesn’t exceed the sum of its parts: there are moments of soaring brilliance coupled with moments of low, broken misery. Unfortunately it just doesn’t always hit the right notes in between.
Dates: Sep 25–26 + Oct 3