Sometimes it is easy to review a show immediately after its performance; often the key lines of what will become a review have formed in mind prior to putting pen to paper (so to speak). Other times there is a need for consideration to enable an approximately-worded evaluation. Wallace Shawn’s “The Fever” is definitely an experience worthy of more prolonged contemplation, given both its big issues of poverty, politics and morality, and the commanding show from its sole performer Zachary Boulton.
The show’s premise is confronting. Boulton is an unnamed who wakes up in a hotel room in a poor, foreign country with a fever and panic about his privileged life. Collapsed on the bathroom floor, he finds himself vommitting and hallucinating. Yet amid this intensity, there is an essential eloquence to the script that makes it entirely engaging. Fortunately there is little time to languish in the beauty of lines like “I swim towards sleep” as the 70 minute monologue moves from personal introspection to examination of more universal Western world themes and the question of what is a human being?This is a show filled with heavy ideas, tempered with some humour. And as the nameless narrator recounts titbits of travel tales from within his torment, it is easy for audience thoughts to drift to their own similar experience of, for example, in my case, wriggly hotel visitors, like a reception rat in Dehli, and the imperialist guilt that inevitably comes with travels in the Third World. This is not due the show’s inability to hold audience attention, but more a testament to its exceptional capacity to engage due to its application to everyone’s varied life experiences and thoughts. And although it perhaps drags a little in its latter parts, “The Fever” is a slow burn of a show guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
Staging is exceedingly simple, with a single table (no chair) and later a lamp, serving to establish all sort of setting scenarios. And lighting is impressive, particularly in its creation of silhouettes against the appropriately gritty West End Market Warehouse venue. But the most outstanding aspect of the experience is Bouton’s performance, which is energetic, passionate, emotional and touched with humour as he delivers dialogue so authentically conversational that it feels like he is talking directly and solely to you as much of a room full of people. This transaction between performer and audience creates a genuine intimacy that transcends the dark depictions of a soul in anguish, to become a starkly beautiful experience. His piercing direct eye contact as rhetorical questions are posed to audience members and the cadence of his vocal delivery combine to create a quite mesmerising encounter. Indeed, the calibre of his performance is of such high quality that it highlights the deficiency of the festival performers at the other end of the spectrum.
“The Fever” is a gripping, powerfull- performed piece of theatre by an unspeakably fine and versatile actor, and an intellectual endeavour with much to offer in provocation of questions about our thoughts, our morals and our own way of how we live our life. As its blurb promisingly ponders, “Life is a gift; but who can afford it?’
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the performance on May 17.