Written and directed by Fred Kelly ‘The Exceptional Case of Whizz and Drex’ is a new dark comedy that runs at the Old Red Lion until 7th December. This is a quirky, funny and sinister piece of new theatre, that I thoroughly enjoyed watching. I’m not always a fan of writers directing their own work, but Fred Kelly really pulls it off, bringing to life the twisted world of the play with great success.
Whizz (Guy Samuels) owns a parcel storage facility with a unique business model. You can pay whatever you want, but the more you the pay, the more likely your package will survive its stay. Drex (Louis Strong) is Whizz’s naive and exploited apprentice. The opening scenes focus on the comedic interplay between the two, and establish the quirkiness of Whizz’s business, while being underscored by a hint of menace. As the play progresses, the laughter becomes more uneasy, as we realise Whizz really is a nasty piece of work who takes far too much enjoyment in torturing Drex.
Guy Samuels succeeds in being both charismatic and odious as Whizz. He has great comic timing, which makes the darker moments of the play all the more unsettling. He is an unrepentant bully and narcissist, who has far too much influence over poor Drex. Louis Strong’s Drex is the perfect counterpoint to Samuels’ Whizz, with their repartee fluidly choreographed to successfully pull out the comedy in the piece. He lands Drex’s innocence very well, making him an awkward yet endearing character, while still weaving in wisps of menace and dark potential.
Throw into the simmering pot, Madi (Ellen Patterson) the femme fatale of the piece. From the beginning we know she is up to something, as she faints into their workplace, and insinuates her way into Drex’s life. She is the source of the growing conflict between Whizz and Drex. Ellen Patterson is brilliant at showing the different faces of Madi, whose personality adjusts based on who she needs to be. She is warm, reassuring and gently flirtatious with Drex, but spiky and defiant with Whizz. Who is she really? What is she up to? And how does she connect to the future interrogations of Whizz and Drex that we repeatedly flash forward to during the course of the play?
The interrogation scenes add a disruptive dynamism to the flow of the show that I really enjoyed. Kathryn O’Reilly brings a lot of energy and humour to the role of Chief, our enigmatic interrogator. She is a joy to watch (in everything I’ve seen her in), and clearly relishes the humour and darkness of her scenes. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between Chief and Whizz, I got a real sense that they were an adversarial match for each other.
Jack Parham’s set design fits the mood of the play perfectly, and felt to me like Black Books meets FedEx. The desk is Whizz’s seat of power, while the mess of packages bring to life the chaos of the world Whizz has created. You never feel as if Drex will have much of chance organising anything, as no matter how late he works, the mess remains. His apprenticeship feels like an exercise in futility.
For lovers of dark and quirky comedies, there is so much to enjoy in ‘The Exceptional Case of Whizz and Drex’ which runs at the Old Red Lion until Saturday 7th December at 8.45pm, with 3.45pm matinees on Thursday & Saturday. Fred Kelly clearly has a talent for dark comedy, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for what he writes next.