Theatre Review: Carousel by Ivo Graham, Park Theatre

Theatre Review: Carousel by Ivo Graham, Park Theatre

Ivo Graham is best known for his slightly geeky, slight confessional stand-up comedy. Now in his first play, a potent mix of storytelling and spoken word about the nature of nostalgia and much more, he draws on the same geekiness and confessional style to explore the nature of memory. How we become fixated by it. Even trapped by it. How we cling to the past and how it plays havoc with our future, going round and round in our heads. 

Graham's clinging to the past is not just symbolic, it is literal. The stage features a pin board and a table peppered with receipts, pictures and flyers from Graham's recent activities and further back. Needless to say this self-confessed "baggage handler" mourns the inexorable replacement of physical tickets with virtual passes. There's a prop from his wincemaking Taskmaster appearances, mementoes from seeing his beloved Swindon Town FC, a school project about the Edinburgh Festival with Edinburgh spelt wrong on the cover. So much for a good education at Eton...

These nostalgic trinkets are triggers for highly evocative stories from Graham's life. Some hugely enjoyable, some hugely moving. There is a particularly touching note from his grandmother who he lived with when he moved to London after Oxford, in which she advises him to try and get some good sleep and some good food. The advice was well meaning but rarely taken as Graham threw himself headlong into a search of enjoyment - one memorable more recent quest involved him and some newly minted friends finding themselves in a bar with a printer and setting up a pop up photo booth.

Graham is more serious here than in his comic outings and maybe more brutally honest. He weaves the story of his marriage breakdown into the narrative, fessing up to his part in its downfall and fretting about what effect it might have on his young daughter. A recurring motif is a reference to Jekyll and Hyde. Comedy fans know Graham as a bit of a posh twit with a penchant for obsessive thinking and organising silly games, but there is clearly another side lurking there too. 

The difficulty is shaking off your past. At one point he recalls running a marathon, determined to break the three hour mark. But maybe the running is also a metaphor for something. Trying to outpace his history perhaps? Apart from a struggle to get his singlet on it's a precision-tooled scene and it has to be, there's an illuminated digital clock counting down behind him.

The script is tighter than his stand-up style, and while it is very much a solo work there is scope for other voices in the form of music. The performance is frequently accompanied by a soundtrack, the emotional push of the words backed by the emotional pull of songs from bands ranging from Underworld to The Waterboys.

Graham has talked about his past before onstage. One of the very first shows I saw after lockdown was him reading from his recently unearthed school diaries in the gardens of Lauderdale House in Highgate in the summer of 2020. He also had a show in Edinburgh (spelt correctly) called My Future, My Clutter, in 2022.

Althought it's a serious piece rest assured there are laughs here too, usually at Graham's expense – though the biggest laugh is at the expense of a well-known comedian/author. But Carousel is mainly about trying to exorcise ghosts. Mistakes made that cannot be unmade. Can Graham shake the past off? Can anyone? He says onstage that "No one else lives like you do" Yet this is a stirring, thoughtful piece that manages to be both intensely personal and intensely relatable (certainly, in parts, to me anyway). We've all got piles of random tat we can't bear to throw out haven't we? Tat in boxes under the bed but also tat in our minds. 

Until June 7. Buy tickets here

There will also be a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Assembly George Square, 14.20, July 31 - August 25. Buy tickets here.

four stars



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