Following on from hit plays Flood and Contactless, Tom Hartwell returns with a brand new one-man show, Before 30; it stars Hartwell himself, and is on a strictly limited run at Theatre N16. Charting a year in the life of a man on the cusp of losing his twentysomething status, Before 30 gets to grips with the issues facing my generation, as the realisation that time is passing us by lurches in & out of our minds with alarming regularity – whether it’s mental health issues, the lack of a half-decent place to live, or your friends ticking off life milestones like they’re going out of fashion, you’re bound to see something you can completely relate to.
Despite the profession being practically foisted upon him as a seven-year-old, Chris is an aspiring chef who has just turned 29 – though his reality is about as far from his dreams as it is possible to get. Living in a tent (pitched in a rented garage in Dagenham), he has found himself stuck as a Deliveroo courier. However, as he doesn’t own his own bike, he’s reliant on the availability of Boris Bikes, black cabs, or a swift jog… An attempt at branching out his delivery services (“vegan chicken from Nando’s”, nudge nudge wink wink) ends with him in A&E with injured ribs & concussion, and later the dawning realisation that he needs to do something to get himself out of this downward spiral. Is an exotic holiday really the answer? Or does he just need to talk?
Tom Hartwell is, without a doubt, one of our finest emerging playwrights. The play is doused with a generous helping of comedy, though at its heart is a darker and more emotional theme than you initially expect; Chris’ mental health issues are gradually teased out, and the effect they have on his life become ever more apparent as he comes to an almost complete standstill. The hopelessness that he periodically feels when thoughts of what his life should be like by now is an incredibly relatable thing. And it doesn’t matter what your situation is – that nagging doubt and anxiety can still find you, unless you find an effective outlet.
There is a wealth of brilliant visual gags, with Hartwell making particularly good use of some handlebars to represent the Boris Bikes he acquires – even including flashing lights to simulate a brief police chase in one scene! He utilises an impressive array of accents to bring various other characters to life; whether it’s an obnoxious American tourist or his West Country grandad, Hartwell has the voice and the physicality to suit it. His comic delivery is impeccable, engaging the audience and leaving them in fits of laughter.
The great thing about this (and the rest of Tom Hartwell’s) work is that it manages to be hugely entertaining as well as incredibly perceptive and reflective of the time in which it was written. Whether your 30th birthday is behind you – or on the horizon – there is definitely something for you to take away from the play.
My verdict? Another fantastically entertaining piece of writing from Tom Hartwell, that’s equally well performed – approaching your 30th never seemed so daunting!
Before 30 runs at Theatre N16 until 17 May 2018. Tickets are available online.