Adventures: Withered Optimism

Notes on recent events I have been to or adventures that have been had. Use the ‘Adventures’ category on this site to see other posts in the series.

The header image on the Vault Festival page for Withered Optimism.

Withered Optimism

Vault Festival, 6th March 2019

On a return visit to Vault Festival in its penultimate week I caught another short comedy show, this time a solo act called Withered Optimism that ran for two days.

Performed over 45 minutes by Jack Kelly, and presented by his company Ofthejackal, Withered Optimism follows a young office worker who experiences a breakdown under the pressure of the corporate world.

Another unspoken performance, Withered Optimism uses pantomime, physical comedy, visuals, sound effects and clowning to convey the show’s message. Trained in Ecole Jacques Lecoq Paris, and aided by stylistic background animations, Jack easily conveys the meaning behind the show to bring the audience along for the ride.

I felt that the first half of the show was its strongest, as Jack uses mime and mouthed sound effects to follow a morning routine that is far too familiar to most of us. Indeed, this portion of the show elicited a number of chuckles and groans from the audience as we appreciated how accurately our every day was being dissected. The electric toothbrush was particularly amusing.

Not every mimed action hit home, although the majority did, and it was only once or twice that I wasn’t sure what activity was being portrayed. But the rest of the audience seemed to follow, so perhaps I just have a deviant morning routine or something.

The daily commute to work and the subsequent grind of the office was accurately put, with a particularly earnest laugh generated by a post-daydream stapler gag. I can only surmise that yes, we would all like to vent like that, too.

The eventual emotional breakdown is conveyed during a meeting, as graphs and charts start to behave… incorrectly. I will that admit I cringed as I felt the pain of that scene, empathising with our character as he is pushed over the edge – I have always found presentations highly stressful.

An illustration by Jack Kelly – see his website for examples and commissions. I love this one.

If there is one weak section to the show – and a minor one only – it is the visualisation, both through animation and acting, of the emotional breakdown. It is a confusing and tense few minutes, following the writhing convolutions of a broken mind. I wouldn’t know how to better act or animate such an ordeal, so this is not an actual criticism – merely an observation that the audience may struggle to process the scene. But then, perhaps that is the entire point. The breakdown wouldn’t be easy to follow, but the anguish certainly was easy to read.

The final ending arrives quickly after, where the character quits his job. This is a show about the repetitive monotony and pressure of corporate life, and the damage that it can do to a person’s wellbeing. The onwards journey after quitting the job is not followed, but the animation used for the closing scene helps explain the character’s state of mind. A calming warmth is shown on his face, which is an appreciated balm to the recent chaos.

The visual element in this performance is strongly used to support the physical element, and it is well done. The animations have a hand-drawn aesthetic, and I think that Jack may have created them himself. In the bar, after the show, I approached and thanked him as the show had reflected a recent portion of my life and my subsequent hope for a better future. My break-point was not as extreme, but came after a very unpleasant few weeks – preceded by years of that eerily accurate morning routine performance. As such, I found this show to be suitably timely and helpfully reflective. Perhaps if you, too, have been reconsidering your career, then this is something to watch.

This show is fun to sit through, has a good message, and doesn’t take a huge chunk out of anyone’s day. Should you have an opportunity to catch any shows by Ofthejackal, please do.



Use the ‘Adventures and Exploration’ category on this site to see related posts.

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