- Gareth K Vile
- 20 August 2019
Difficult feminist theatre from a toxic perspective
Catching Comets appears to be a generic romp through autobiographical romantic failure. Toby, performed with energy and sympathy by Ali Michael, recollects his relationship with 'Forest Green' and his obsession with cinematic action heroes through a dual narrative that jumps between real life and a fantasy of saving the world in the style of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Toby wants to see himself as a hero, leaping from helicopters and smacking up heartless villains, but his behaviour slowly reveals that, despite his surface sensitivity and amiability, he is a horrible human being. Hopefully, the claims in the script by Piers Black that this is a true story are theatrical tropes.
Toby's toxicity is generic enough - an inability to open up emotionally and an enthusiasm for the masculine antics of the North American hero. The script delineates the connection between his fandom and his failure to treat Forest with respect. Temper tantrums in the cinema - notably at a Marvel film, a franchise that is at least making steps away from the stereotypical masculine, white hero - rudeness to Forest, self-pity build a picture of a boy who can't grow up, stunted in the shadow of the Hollywood masculine archetypes. Complaining that Bruce Willis' character in Die Hard saves the world twice but still ends up divorced, Toby becomes terrified of breaking up with Forest, leading to the behaviour that destroys their relationship.
Michael complicates this narrative by framing Toby as a lively, naive and amiable chap: while the subtext points to his villainy, the surface dynamism presents Toby as the victim - a typically self-serving masculine behaviour. He appeals for sympathy, but as Forest points out, needs to sort out his attitude. The tension between Toby's self-presentation and the clear foundations of his selfishness makes Catching Comets an uncomfortable production.
Throwing up questions about the role of men in conversations about feminism, the dangers of traditional heroes' journeys as the template for cinema and the hidden misogyny of the nice guy, the script is deceptively romantic and Michael's performance hides the trenchant analysis in a blur of energy and emotional appeal. For all its surface approachability, Catching Comets has a heart as dark as its protagonist.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug, 1.45pm, £11 (£10)