A review of Russell Brand's "A Trew Work in Progress" At the National Theatre on Wednesday 29th July 2015.
I wake up this morning unable to shake this guy out of my head. It's exhausting watching Russell Brand as he opens his mouth and out pours an endless stream of consciousness. My dad used to say to my Mum, “Engage Brain before Opening Mouth”. He would have had the same paternal advice for Russell. It’s what gets the man in trouble. In fact the whole Revolution thing seems almost an accident, a response to Jeremy Paxman challenging Russell on what should be done about the state of the country. Out pops the word “Revolution” and off he launches onto a new mission.
The 3am thing, which seems to be a feature of my week, pops up again as Russell admonishes the audience that it’s OK for us, we get to go home at the end of the evening, but he has to live with his incessant ramblings and his endless thoughts. Easily envisaged is the portrait he paints of a girl he picks up at a nightclub and drops a glass on the floor. In that moment he doesn’t just want to clear up the mess but sees metaphors for the meaning of life. In his own stream of consciousness he wakes up – alone - at 3am.
The format of the show follows the age old Brand format – pick an event (usually from his own life story), show some video of the event, freeze frame the funny bits and then carrying out the minutiae of self-psychoanalysis. A mix of self-deprecation, gentle teasing of the audience and absolute annihilation of the media on which he has built his whole life. It is akin to watching The Trews episodes back to back for 75 minutes.
In this largely unscripted show, in preparation for the Trew World Order, Russell wears his frustration at his own actions and his disdain for the shallowness of modern existence not just on his sleeve. It’s as if he turns himself inside out and shows us his very inner being. His guts are not very pretty. Many people absolutely loathe him with a passion, and I can’t help but wonder if this raw honesty is just a step too far for most. In our own seeking after the trappings of consumerism, he speaks a truth that perhaps most don’t want to hear. In a contradiction of his own life he mocks the hand that previously fed him. But he takes it so far that it is hard now to imagine any TV show or film featuring Russell that he won’t have to self fund.
One can’t help but feel that the recovering addict in Russell has found fame and fortune and now is on a beeline to self-destruct. Once he thought the glitz and the girls could bring him happiness and in the end, when he found they didn’t, he turned. Now he says he will only do things that feel right, and damn the consequences. I’m not sure if this is brave or stupid, but the honesty with which the activitist expresses his spirituality is palpable. There is no way I could doubt his sincerity.
Russell is quite clearly still vulnerable. Amidst all the noise and frantic physical comedy of his stage presence, when he sheds the comedic cloak, Brand is obviously a quiet man. From the vantage point of my restricted view seat, I get a perfect view of the man before he heads on stage. Extremely quite and still. We lock eyes, not once but perhaps three times. As we stare at each other, I am unable to detect whether he is totally in his own world not actually catching my gaze at all or wondering who is this strange woman staring at me? I try to make a connection across the ether, I don’t think it worked.
As Russell exits the stage at the end of the evening, his face is warm but almost a blank canvas. Fans clamour behind him as he reminds us that we need to vacate the small 150 person theatre before the management get narked. It is as if the performance, the wearing of his inside out, wears him out.
Off stage Russell now dons a meditative persona; his face soft, his patience with his fans kind as they stop to ask for selfies. Two girls who run an Islamic TV station tell me that their young audience love Russell. He speaks to their truth. I ask them if they would like to interview him. Yes, that’s exactly what they want and, as if I had any say at all, I say that I am sure he will. I look on as they approach Russell and he listens attentively.
Brand leaves the building with his entourage of friends that he has clung to for a long time, through celebrity and back again to a pseudo-ordinary life. I feel sad for this man-child alone with his thoughts at 3am. Not so much a Ponderland, but a lonely Hinterland. Still caught up in a world of celebrity on which he depends and yet where he never really felt at home.