Shane Morgan's adaptation of NippleJesus, the tale of a security guard and his relationship with the artwork he's protecting, is as deceptively simple as the original short story by Nick Hornby.
In this one-man show Morgan is Dave, a nightclub bouncer who's jacked in his job after being threatened one time too many. Taken on by a contemporary art gallery, he's expecting regular hours and a quiet life but begins to suspect he's been chosen for a special sort of mission. Dave is a big bloke and the work he'll be guarding is controversial, but all he's told as he's led to a curtained-off side-room with a warning notice is to expect trouble. It's the complexities of his relationship with the picture behind the curtain, its creator and ragtag collection of visitors, which lie at the heart of this story.
Morgan begins his piece seated by a table at the back of an otherwise virtually empty stage, reading the newspaper and snacking on crisps and coke. As the story unfolds, with pared-back use of lighting and music, he very effectively recreates the curtained-off space and brings to life the presence of the picture.
Dave is your average man in the street with little interest in art, the first to admit that he'd usually be outraged if he read in the papers of a religious icon depicted through the medium of pornography. The beauty in this adaptation is how closely we're able to examine Dave's reactions as he grapples with the picture's meaning and develops protective feelings towards the work and its creator. Morgan is an entirely believable Dave and succeeds in bringing out the nuances and humour of Hornby's pin-sharp writing, the bigger questions behind this Everyman tale. He's the hard guy with unexpectedly intelligent and fuzzy edges, who finds them firming up again as the real reason behind his involvement becomes clear.
NippleJesus was first published in 2000 and the adaptation premiered at the Sidney Fringe Festival in 2001. It's been touring the world on and off ever since and the performance I saw was a preview of its most recent incarnation. It's still pretty faithful to the original story with only minor updating and deserving of the tour Morgan is working towards later in 2014.
I did mention a virtually empty stage. Let it be said I felt sorry for the onion*, but apparently, no vegetables were harmed during the course of this production. It's a clever and funny story, existentialism with humour so well delivered on the night. And that's never a simple thing to do.
NippleJesus is Shane Morgan's one-man show for Roughhouse Theatre. I saw it at The Rondo Theatre, Bath on 2nd May 2014. Many thanks to Shane/Roughhouse/The Rondo for my tickets.
NippleJesus is part of a short story collection Speaking with the Angel published by Riverhead Books.
*later humanely incorporated into a spaghetti bolognese.