Mark Glentworth, composer of the percussion piece “Blues for Gilbert” and a talented, successful musician, spent three quarters of a decade secluded from the rest of the world. In this autobiographical musical, Glentworth doesn’t just tell us about this difficult, confusing period of his life – no, it seemed to me that he is attempting, during every performance of SEVEN and a half YEARS, to work through it while an audience is allowed to observe.
Working as playwright, composer, lyricist, and sound designer, Glentworth is alone on stage in every sense. A stronger musician than he is a vocalist, there are moments where a lovely, warm tone can be heard in his voice, but more often than not it serves as an effective tool to deliver his words. He does prove, on the other hand, to be a more than capable actor, positively brimming with neuroses and anxiety while the past-self he’s portraying slips further into insecurity and fea
The songs themselves are strong monologues, sung out to the audience but clearly aiming inwards, questioning himself as to where things went wrong and how he came to this point in his life. Some moments of him stood at his keyboard trying to reckon with his own relationship with the passage of time around him resemble what might have been if Jonathan Larson had lived to middle age – what Tick, Tick… Boom!might encapsulate if written by an older, more damaged man.
Glentworth provides effective sound design, with voices both external and in his head seeming to flit around the audiences’ heads, allowing them to feel as he did in those moments. Likewise, the muted lighting from Jonny Dancinger helps to set the bulk of the piece within the confines of Mark’s apartment. In this minimalist staging, a phone centred on stage carries enormous emotional wright, with our protagonist seeming at once afraid of and in awe of the connection it provides.
While the script is well structured and tightly paced, allowing the one-hour run time to fly by as he jumps from moment to moment, struggle to struggle, there is a certain amount of clumsiness in key moments. Walking from one location to another, as in Marks’s rushed visits to the nearby corner shop for a hurried dinner, is represented using a small, manual treadmill. His being able to clutch the handle for security and use the force required to move the treadmill to represent how difficult he finds even this brief journey, it was a largely ineffective choice, and I would have preferred to see more trust put in not only the audience’s understanding of what is happening in the story, but in his own physicality as a performer.
That physicality was, in fact, a highlight of Glentworth’s acting performance. He seemed to shrink increasingly into himself as the story progressed and his anxiety and self-isolation became more troubling, before appearing to grow taller again before our eyes when he began to concur this difficult period of his life. Julia Stubbs, as director, has helped Glentworh to shape a fine acting performance, though his sometimes aimless movement and the back-and-forth nature of the blocking had me wondering if the pair should refocus on these elements for future runs.
There is a strength in not only what this man overcame, but in his willingness to so openly explore it before a room full of strangers time and time again. SEVEN and a half YEARS could use some tweaks in its presentation, but the raw material is strong and sophisticated, and work exploring the complicated human mind and what we are capable of overcoming is always a welcome addition to the theatrical canon.
SEVEN and a half YEARS follows this appearance at Riverside Studios' Bitesize Festival with a run at the Manchester Fringe
For tickets and information, including dates for future performances, visit https://sevenandahalfyears.co.uk
Photos by Grey Swan