by: Susan Hasho
The play Peddling, written and performed by Harry Melling, and directed by Steven Atkinson, is part of 59e59 Theaters’ Brits Off Broadway series. It was first performed at the HighTide Festival, April 10, 2014.
The set is the first thing you experience when walking to your seat. It is a floor-to-ceiling, oblong see-thru scrim box encapsulating a patch of grass surrounded by dirt with an electrical pole in the middle. Lights are strung on the pole and throughout the scrim. So, there you are in a small space with seats all around confronted by what seems like a cage. The action begins with a lone young man coming to consciousness rather violently, surrounded by mess— in London. It becomes clear that he is involved in some sort of probation job referred to as, “Boris’ young offender’s scheme.” He is peddling toilet paper, etc. in the suburbs. And he talks. He’s not sure what happened the night before and he’s certainly not keen on the door-to-door thing. He talks about his frustrations – his “boss man ringing” on the cell he’s been provided with, pigeons crapping on his head. He finds the familiar face of a case worker in one of the houses. She doesn’t recognize him and gives him a fiver. He misses his ride back to London. He then begins his lost, suburban odyssey—filled with affronted rage and a strong desire to get back at the caseworker who didn’t recognize him and who was nice to him
And so it goes…He is fired and set even more adrift—and gets drunk for yet another night. And talks and finds his case file somehow (the rest not to be revealed by me). And then moves to the revelatory end of the play. The play is in poetry. You wouldn’t know that necessarily by hearing it. But it’s not surprising, because the images the boy speaks of, the quicksilver change of subject and the high emotion all are beautifully articulated and on the cusp of unreality. Despite the gritty reality of his situation, his imagination is on fire.
Not only did Harry Melling write an evocative, passionate journey, but he has brought it to life with discipline and craft. It is a 50-minute exploration of a young man’s soul which pays off at the end in a sweet beauty that surprises. And his performance is riveting, at times funny, and often moving.
All of the technical aspects of the production (Lily Arnold designer, Azusa Ono lighting designer and George Dennis sound designer) are extremely creative and brilliantly effective in creating a keen sense of place, and other characters, with light and sound.
Steven Atkinson’s sensitive and skillful direction beautifully serves to expand the premise of the play, and the talent of the actor.
Peddling is altogether an unusual, extremely worthwhile journey on the edge of a young man’s life.
The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday at 8:30pm; Saturday at2:30pm & 8:30pm; and Sunday at 3:30pm & 7:30pm. Performances are at 59e59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.