Classic Edinburgh Fringe 2016
They Built it. No One Came fledglingtheatre.com
There is something rather wonderful to behold about anyone who has a deep root belief in what they are doing and what they want from life. You could call this being stubborn or pigheadedness but you can’t deny the impact that this type of followthrough and self-belief can have.
For some there the real ideal seems to be this desire to break away from the society that’s binding them wilfully removing them from the constraints, worry, pain, memory and history eventually connecting them with a much more simple and natural ‘other’. We are forever convinced that there is this created ‘utopia’ out there waiting to be found or discovered by those eager, able and willing to make the break from society.
And this is exactly what partners Tobias, Christopher Neels, and Alexander, Patrick Holt, did when they founded the Humbleton commune. But after twelve years and nobody showing any interest in joining their ever-changing ideological community, the strain begins to show but the pair refuse to give up. A lifeline is thrown to them when an emotionally fragile student Pablo, Callum Cameron, wants to come and live with them. However, the hands of fate continue to test Tobias and Alexander as their routine, convictions, relationship and place within their wider community becomes more unstable.
The introduction of Pablo seems to offer the duo the opportunity they’ve been looking for to put into practice everything they had set out to do with Humbleton. The only problem is that after so long and so many years with very little interest from the outside world they appear reluctant and resilient at first. But in Pedro, a shy, nervous, bullied outsider they’ve found a sacred spirit but don’t seem to connect with him as such.
Ben Maier’s music is performed live throughout the play by Eduardo Elia, Bennie, which gives the play a good balance and maintains the lighthearted and playful innocence of Cameron’s text.
Hindsight can be like your best friend slapping you across the face whilst shouting ‘told you so’, you never appreciate it and commentary on your ‘failings’ hurts more than you would ever admit but you are willing to concede. Originally a New York Times article by Penelope Green, They Built It. But Nobody Came. is based on a surprisingly true story of Michael Colby and Donald Graves later changing their names to Christian and Johannes.
Neels and Holt are delightfully charming as Tobias and Alexander. There is a slight coldness to the way they both play these characters and how their characters respond to each other. Though when one takes into account their personal histories, the time and place, this ‘coldness’ begins to make sense. They do have a warmth to one another but they also have two very different personalities and remain centred by this pull of their communal living ideal. At times you hope that the pair would embrace and take real stock of the situation they are in but that intimacy doesn't come.
The time and place are important to understanding why the physicality and intimacy between the two men in the play are somewhat overlooked. This comes towards the end of the play when Alexander talks about an incident he and Tobias had had during a visit to a burger place which is beautifully painful and greatly adds to Alexander’s resolve and the protection and security that Humbleton offers.
"But by the time they started the draw of these communes were on the decline and Tobias and Alexander’s lack of experience and focus proved to be a continuous stumbling block."
Writer Callum Cameron text is funny, touching and deeply effective which maintains a simple but powerful premise - no matter what happens the characters can not quit. This mantra is declared almost from the outset, underpinning the whole play with a sense of hopefulness. You want them to succeed but you’re resigned to the fact that they won’t which makes their story even more salient. Director Lucy Wray handles the text with class and distinction providing a philosophically heavy and morally strong play that stays with you.
The resolve of the real Tobias and Alexander, Colby and Graves are, on paper at least, impossible to deny. Within their own great experiment, they have equally achieved a lot and failed massively which is difficult to really put into words. There is a respect that you have for Tobias and Alexander but you’re also aware that there is no real change or even helping them to realise their dreams. At its core perhaps we have two men, lost, confused and upset by the reality around them and the issues they have encountered as Gay men.
Humbleton isn’t a get-away retreat or a place to hide and lock oneself away from the world but a genuine attempt, whether misguided or not, to try and create to an alternative place. But by the time they started the draw of these communes were on the decline and Tobias and Alexander’s lack of experience and focus proved to be a continuous stumbling block.
And yet the greatest contribution that they have added is seeing your dreams, your hopes and your desires in life are yours, nobody else. You can only achieve what you want in your life if you ensure just one thing, that even in the face of certain doom and uncertainty, you must never give up.