Jack Dee would be the worst children’s party entertainer ever. He would resemble the stereotypically depressed clown, a cigarette poking out the side of his mouth and a smile painted on his face to overshadow the bags under his eyes or his generally pallid complexion. Joseph Cullen is not wearing a clown suit, but he has more than a bit in common with Jack Dee – a happy go lucky personality; bags of energy and charm; a sunny outlook on life. Cullen used to be a children’s party entertainer, he now portrays an addict recovering from what sounds like an exceptionally horrific experience. You Having Olaf? Cullen is not, but his traumas are more than a little amusing to his audience.
Co-director of Over The Limit Theatre, Cullen brings a one-man show to The Vaults Festival as well as three new works. You Having Olaf is a monologue, a comedy routine, in many ways carefully thought over and in others indicative that Cullen’s attention may have been elsewhere at this festival. But he swigs Strongbow (the man has indeed fallen far and fallen hard) whilst discussing oblique trivia about Agincourt and letting out his frustrations on a cardboard cut-out of Zayn Malik – he left One Direction, he deserves everything he gets. The audience learn about his decision to apply to be a kid’s entertainer, the resulting horror that follows and the spectacular comedown that leaves him a shell of a man on stage. Self-deprecating; downtrodden; unable to see colour in the world. Wouldn’t you be if you’d been caught taking a shit by some pre-school children on an under-sized toilet?
Cullen is at his best when showcasing his lyrical prowess. The original application for the job and a sarcastic examination of his naïve optimism is on point and observant. His spoken word poetry, at times a steady cadence and rhythm of a popular rap, has hints of word mastery akin to Tim Minchin. Cullen’s lyrical muscles are well and truly flexed – the high point of the performance.
At times the concept feels too much like a pity party – Cullen comes across whiny and pathetic and the overwhelming urge to shake him has to be constrained. He frequently breaks away from his story into tangential observations that, whilst clever, fragment the tale and make portions of the set cumbersome. But each point is well made, inventively phrased and rings true to the young 20-somethings making up 90% of the audience. He finishes his set and crawls back inside the children’s tent from whence he came, ironic but completely in keeping.
Writer/ Performer: Joseph Cullen
Producer: Sara Hooppell
Runs until 26 February 2017 at The Vaults – visit the website to buy tickets.