Gareth Davies in And They Called Him Mr Glamour | Belvoir Street Theatre

You’ve got to love the the Sydney theatre scene. Well, sometimes. One night you’re sitting, laughing your arse off, in the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre for Loot, Joe Orton’s bent take on the comedy of manners. It doesn’t require vomiting, nudity, or similar would-be shock value, as the shocks comes as a series of tremors, which shake the foundations of society and agreed values.

Nonetheless, sometimes we need to be reawakened with a more visceral version of what’s possible. Gareth Davies delivers, as writer and performer, in And They Called Him Mr Glamour, around 70 minutes of cunningly constructed anti-theatre, designed to give the impression of deconstruction.

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The first thing to mention is the set, which is nothing short of amazing. One enters the theatre only to be overwhelmed by a night-sky of low-wattage lightbulbs. It looks like the whole world is now trapped in an episode of Steptoe and Son, from which there is, for an hour or so, at least, no escape. It’s confronting, claustrophobic and strangely magical. The rest of the landscape is in keeping with first impressions: a meticulous menagerie of detritus, such as one might find in one’s grandfather’s shed on the day of his funeral. Momentarily invisible, almost shrinking, is our anxious hero, chain-smoking, shuffling and looking alarmingly apprehensive as we take our seats.

It’s the first time Davies and co have unleashed themselves on Sydney and we’re the better for it; though, I’m sure, not all will agree. While comically accentuating (indeed, wildly exaggerating) the paranoia of the performer (though, I’m sure, not all will agree), Davies throws into question the agreed values and conventions of theatre itself, as both notional and physical space: the roles of audience and actors, the contract between them; the existence, or nay, of the fourth wall; the permissibility of nudity and crudity and the level of our sensitization to it.

Yes, there’s ‘bad’ language. Yes, there’s a penis. Yes, he almost throws up, for real. And yes, Thomas J Wright, directing, has ensured all the restless energy and connective tissue is brutally in evidence.

In many ways, Mr Glamour is a veritable advertisement for the creative virtue of neurosis. In portraying such, Davies is almost too convincing. This seems like a genuine and necessary outpouring; an exorcism of all his fears about theatre.  There’s the constant threat of him invading your personal space, one way or another, that keeps you on-guard. And, sure enough, he does place himself among us at a couple of points, unsettling some.

But it’s mainly about him, not us. And the character is consummately realised and, I suspect, partially, or substantially, an intrinsic part of Davies. He, or Mr Glamour, or both, alight from one subject to another, Peter Pan-like, quixotic, without warning. Thus, we are told of his love for us, his availability for fucking, of devotions to his legs, and so on.

Davies and Mr Glamour burn with incandescent energy and are undeniably compelling. But as impressive, if not moreso, is Wright’s taut direction and, above all, his stunning design, which envelops the audience in cave-like environment such as one might find Hannibal Lecter in. Best of all, both of the key creatives seem to be trying to move past the merely vibrational to resonate with some meaning and even truth. I’m not quite sure what that might be as yet. And neither, I suspect, do they.

But they’re voraciously investigating.

The details: And They Called Him Mr Glamour plays the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir Street until October 9. Tickets on the company website.