As student protests go Malcolm Scrawdyke’s plans for world domination were a flash in the pan. Seven days and it was over. The rise and fall of a revolution was done and dusted in a week.
But David Halliwell’s 1965 cult debut play, Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs, planted a seed that would continue to resonate through theatre.
Fifty years on the revolution is reignited in a new fiery new production at the Southwark Playhouse that I’m sure would have won Halliwell’s approval.
On one of the hottest nights of the year the angry young men, who plotted the overthrow of world order over a cup of stewed tea and a bag of greasy chips, were aglow with a zealous fervour.
Or possibly heat exhaustion. Poor Daniel Easton, as Malcolm, Scott Arthur, Laurie Jamieson and Barney McElholm, were sweating buckets dressed in a greatcoat, duffle, sheepskin and leather jackets. Anarchy has its price to pay when it takes place on New Year’s Day in chilly Huddersfield.
We first meet Malcolm Scrawdyke as he contemplates getting up. It’s gone 2pm and, well, it has to be done. “Get Up!” he roars to himself and, after a few false starts, hurls himself from his dirty mattress, to face the world.
But that’s something Malcolm finds hard to do. The eponymous strange, smelly, unkempt loner, he has been kicked out of art school, has few friends, and finds it impossible to talk to women (and we’ve all seen what atrocities these sort of men go on to commit).
Malcolm slobs around his squalid bedsit holding fervent conversations with himself in an attempt to bolster his confidence and self-esteem.
At least the scruffy and bohemian David Halliwell, also kicked out of (the same) art school, had some sort of vision that marked him out as a minor pioneer in 1960s emerging fringe theatre.
Malcolm is an angry young man who wants revenge on his college principal. First, start a political party, second, bring down Allard the head, third, world domination.
He’s been described as a bedsit Hitler and there’s no denying Malcolm has problems.
Halliwell’s blistering satire starts off as a jolly student (or even ex-student) prank, something The Inbetweeners or The Young Ones may have turned their hands to in a TV sitcom. They fantasize about robbery, revenge and revolution in the same way small boys acted out games in their gardens. It’s silly, innocent fun.
But it turns into something much darker and sinister in Act II as Malcolm begins to unravel and his paranoid-schizophrenia (a must-have condition for up-and-coming fascist dictators) makes him violent and unpredictable.
The bearded Easton’s central performance as Malcolm is powerful and intense. There’s a mania but also vulnerability in those brooding eyes. The leader of the newly formed Party of Dynamic Erection wraps himself tightly in his army greatcoat as though it’s a security blanket.
There’s real passion in the electrifying speeches he gives to his motley band of followers. Laurie Jamieson’s Wick acts as his Number Two, slavishly following his leader though privately having second thoughts about dropping out of college.
The timid Irwin (McElholm, a picture of innocence) goes along with everything, too afraid of losing Malcolm’s friendship.
The only person to stand up to Malcolm, the argumentative Nipple (Scott Arthur), has his own fantasies and suffers for his independence.
It is a real shock when their student high jinx suddenly turns to violence in a brutal scene that leaves the audience stunned by its ferocity.
Director Clive Judd has wisely cut Halliwell’s original six-hour play to a fast-paced and lively three – which, in itself, may seem overlong but actually flies by thanks to the hugely enjoyable and engrossing turns by this talented ensemble.
Rochenda Sandall, who plays the object of Malcolm’s desire, makes a brief, but pertinent, appearance as a typical, blunt-talking, northern lass.
Little Malcolm has more than stood the test of time and is just as thought provoking and provocative as when it was first written.
Little Malcolm runs at Southwark Playhouse until August 1.
Little Malcolm & his Struggle Against the Eunuchs
Student anarchy is on the agenda for Little Malcolm & His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, given a revival at the Southwark Playhouse, 50 years after being penned by writer David Halliwell.