New Zealander Tim Carlsen put One Day Moko together after spending time volunteering at a drop-in centre for the homeless. “My experiences and observations allowed me to build an insight into the homeless lifestyle,” he told us in interview. That insight gave rise to Moko, the idiosyncratic snappy-talking character who greets us from a blanket on the floor as we enter. This background info is useful, because dropped straight in to this immersive piece, there’s not a lot else to help you get a handle on what’s going on.
“Got any requests?” is Moko’s catchphrase. He loves his singing does Moko, and will happily riff off any title he’s given by the audience, pacing the stage with a swagger in his tatty hoodie. This presumed icebreaking banter drifts on beyond its natural endpoint; the audience begin to wonder whether he’s actually going to introduce himself, or tell us anything, or whether he’s a singing one-trick pony, who will drag this out for a whole hour. If the point is to prove how quickly a “quirky” homeless character can become a public nuisance, then it’s well made.
Much better is when we join him at a McDonald’s drive-thru later in the piece. By now, we’ve more of a grip on his vibe, and he’s ordering us Big Macs from the window, knowing full well he has no means of paying from them. When the serving hatches get slammed down in his face, there’s now the full sense of what it is to be homeless – the servers are happy to engage in jokey chats with Moko, but when it comes to helping him, it’s no dice. We’re also on his side when he gets chased by the police (a co-opted audience member flashing a torch at him as he tries to sleep). More of this set-up material at the beginning would have established the tone more quickly.
Moko is an observer too, telling us of the people he’s seen on his way round the city, and scratching his head at the things they miss that he sees – the pretty girls, the scenery. In this sense, Moko can be seen as a Mr Wendal, font-of-wisdom character, bringing home the benefits of a slower, more meditative life. There could be more of this material, and a clearer sense of resolution to some of the stories.
Carlsen has been careful to adapt the piece to Edinburgh locales, although not so careful to check names and pronunciations – Meadows Park, Princes’ Street Park, Lothian Road (with the first syllable rhyming with “moth”) – it’s just enough to shatter the suspension of disbelief. And when the young straight guy he talks about goes on a drinking binge to “The Regent” after a break-up, surely he doesn’t mean the gay bar at Abbeyhill? It would be a strange choice.
Moko is an interesting guy, a fully-created character who stays well clear of stereotype. His posture, his facial ticks and his attitude all make him believable. He’s likeable too. Everyone’s his “bro”. He just leaves us a little bewildered for too long.