Review: Who Am I (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 2 – 20, 2016
Playwright: Russell Cheek
Director: Stephen Abbott
Cast: Russell Cheek

Theatre review
Watching game shows on television is perhaps one of the most frivolous ways to spend time. Obscure questions might be asked of its contestants, but what it offers viewers is mind-numbing entertainment that does little more than to help soothe away the day’s worries. None of it holds meaning for us after the 25 minutes have past, and we scarcely remember anything that had secured our undivided attention previously. This is not the case for Russell Cheek, who in 1993 participated in Sale Of The Century, one of the countless game shows to have appeared on our screens since the early days of broadcast technology. It was a life changing experience for Cheek, and in Who Am I, memories of that special time is presented to us, by a protagonist still spirited and surprisingly engaging in his one man show.

Cheek’s show entices with nostalgia, humour and a rare optimism. The prospect of sitting through 70 minutes of a man recollecting an event that is of consequence only to himself, seems farcical and banal at the outset, but we soon find ourselves investing in his tale. It is a story that appeals to our insatiable thirst for hope, and proves itself to be buoyant to a remarkable degree. Cheek is here to share in his joy, and it is terribly infectious. The script is simple but rigorously worded, so that its imagery is vivid, and the punchlines it delivers are definite. Stephen Abbott brings a discerning approach to direction that gives the show a delightful and relentless playfulness, while maintaining an air of elegance to proceedings. Cheek wins us over with charisma and a genuine eagerness to connect, and even though certain sequences seem slightly under-rehearsed, his ability to put all at ease makes for a pleasurable time at the theatre.

It is a turning point in life, with talent and chance coinciding to provide Russell Cheek with not just a unique anecdote for the ages, but also financial rewards and the associated freedoms that many of us can only dream of. We discover a comfort in the knowledge that dreams do come true and fairy tales can happen, and when it is a good person who has reaped the benefits, we are all the happier.