Adam Harley is a no-fuss, no-frills kind of guy. He talks about teeth with a kind of pornographic obsession, talks about fingering yourself and shagging around in short, sharp sentences. There’s a manic glint in his eye and an uneasy atmosphere settles across the room. This is a man that may have a couple of screws loose, in a dangerous, could flip and cave your head in at any moment, kind of way.
Jelly Beans describes an atypical day in the life of Harley as he casts a grey shroud over everything he touches and discusses. He has a perfect life fantasy that he won’t ever achieve because he bums around, can’t hold down a job and steals loose change from his mates. It’s a horrifyingly simplistic world view that writer Dan Pick concocts, one of want and take without thought of consequence or of others. Harley is unhinged and we feel the impending doom simply by being in his presence.
Pick’s script has descriptive flair and is reminiscent of a Philip Ridley story, a Dark Vanilla Jungle styled, alternative look at those living on the fringes of normality. At times, it’s quite comical – we can detach ourselves as Harley describes beating a disabled man to a pulp with the same simplistic bluntness of describing his favourite film. He plunges his hands into the bloody bucket and we wince at the squelch it makes, partly squeamish and partly protected by our fourth wall. This is the wall that Harley fails to break through; he can never quite connect us with the material to have sufficient impact.
“Hello darkness my old friend” is a lyric that (unsurprisingly) sticks in Harley’s mind, a wicked smile plastered across his face. But it’s the eyes that are truly impressive – madness dances behind them and makes us shrink back in our seats. He snaps quickly between internal flashbacks and current events, with linking imagery galvanising the thoughts in his head. The lighting and sound to signify these flashbacks is ultimately distracting though; Harley’s presence and character are engaging enough without the need for extra emphasis.
The grimy, gripping story moves from GBH to drinks in a pub to shagging a bird in a toilet. Everything in Pick’s narrative is dirty and a bit alien to the majority of our lives – he seems to pick up on the sordid fantasies that rush around our heads, subconsciously coming to the fore and confronting us with our carnal desires. But like Harley, eventually the past catches up and the present hits in an anti-climactic fashion. Gone is the crazed nonchalance, simply the realisation that he is fucking his dead little sister (metaphorically) and has almost killed a man for being too fat. But there isn’t enough contrast to emphasise the gravity of this moment in Harley’s performance, a sudden jolt needed to bring the events into the harsh light of day.
The ending of Jelly Beans is far too predictable, tying in Harley’s damaged past with his psychotic present. He resigns himself to what he must do with the same blunt attitude he’s had throughout the play and carries it out without fear of consequence. But given the shockingly descriptive events gone before, it’s too anti-climactic to leave a lasting impression.
Jelly Beans plays Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.
Follow the link to an interview in Miro Magazine with Jelly Beans‘ producer, Jamie Eastlake.