By Mark Bolsover
In ‘The Diary of Thomas Pooler’, Speckled Glasses theatre company present a gentle tragi-comic character study.
—Setting out to become a stand-up sensation, mild-mannered local planning bureaucrat Thomas Pooler begins to keep a daily diary, hoping that his semi-literary efforts will yield comedy gold. What is revealed of the true nature of his middle-English life, however, fails to lead to laughter. …
At its core, ‘The Diary of Thomas Pooler’ concerns the plight of a small soul in search of significance and of recognition.
Lewis Dunn gives an, at times, genuinely charming, and well-pitched turn as the mannered, affable, deluded and pitiable Pooler. The writing is smart and literate, using direct address through the device of the diary well to highlight its own textual construction and tropes. The show attempts to balance between, on the one hand a really quite sharp and dark satire of the type Pooler represents—drawing on the emptiness of his daily life, the banality of his observations, and (at least initially) his obliviousness to his own mediocrity and dullness, to construct and to painfully dissect and mock him and his misguided ambitions—and, on the other, to create a genuine empathy and warmth toward Pooler. This is a difficult balance, and the show (and Dunn) does well: Pooler, whilst dull and ridiculous, is genuinely inoffensive and pitiable. However, the tragi-comedy here is perhaps rather too gentle and mild-mannered. If the darker satirical study half of the show (so to speak) were colder and crueller, forcing the audience to laugh harder at poor Pooler’s expense, even as he longs to amuse, the warmth and empathy sought after, as Pooler’s awareness of the true nature of his life, situation and relationships grows, would—inversely—be stronger.
The show offers the promise of redemption to poor Pooler, but, while this is genuinely touching, in his bid for stardom and liberation, and in the show’s denouement the pace could be slowed (making use of a possible full hour), the stakes ratcheted up a notch and the pathos heightened, and the show’s ending could land with the impact it genuinely warrants.