For a show including more Grease references than most, this black comedy does not fall in the genre of ‘feel-good’; emotive, arresting, and even hilarious, might be better descriptors. Spencer, a brooding Geordie millennial, begins in a coffee shop – the insufferably organic type. We become enamoured by – and loathe with equal measure – the characters who decorate his very ordinary life. Ordinary, that is, until his girlfriend’s sudden death.
Strictly speaking, Ticker is a one man show. Nevertheless, Tom Machell effortlessly adopts a multitude of personas as we meet his family, friends and the enigmatic, beautiful Gabs in a story which includes her premature death, but focuses on themes of toxic masculinity, religion and youth. Machell is Spencer, but he is also the overachieving sister, the lads-lads-lads best mate, and the frustratingly insensitive doctor, in just a mild shift in mannerism, posture and accent. Suspend your disbelief, and it is an all-star cast, each clamouring their own opinion and quirks. What becomes apparent is that Spencer is not the perfect protagonist; he becomes humanised by a tendency for aggression, selfishness, and a questionable choice in friends.
Despite the tragedy of its premise, the comedic element of Ticker is hugely effective, to the esteemed credit of director Derek Anderson. Witty, dark and slapstick on occasion, Ticker is as entertaining as it is unfortunate. The coffee table prop offers seemingly limitless possibilities, as we are transported from cafe, to first dinner date, to hospital by Machell’s creative flair. Most of the individuals in Spencer’s life are pretty one-dimensional. Whilst understandably caricatures, designed to entertain and (for the most part) act as scenery, they are your cookie-cutter order for an almost successful American sitcom: a rugby-lad best friend, gorgeous girlfriend and difficult mother-in-law figure. At moments, it feels as though we have entered the world of a Netflix original, leaving an aftertaste diluted by cliché.
Nevertheless, Ticker is performed with an artistic precision that dances between rage, hilarity and reflection, in what is a brilliantly powerful piece.