Jesper Arin, who performs this one-man play, stood at the exit to the theatre as the audience left. We shook hands and I was going to congratulate him on his performance. Instead, I ran up the stairs onto the street and burst into tears.
Jesper’s tale tells is gripping and distressing in itself, but his skills as a story-teller make the saga riveting.
Evil is the harrowing tale of Eric, who is violently abused by his father. As a gang leader in school he makes enough trouble to get expelled. He’s sent away to boarding school, which he sees as a new start and the opportunity to lead a better life. There, he quickly makes friends with Pierre, a bright, bullied lad who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the boys. In the context of yet another brutal regime and faced with the plight of his friend, Eric has to decide what to do: whether to “suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them.”
The story is based on the award-winning, semi-autobiographical novel by the Swedish writer and journalist Jan Guillou, which was made into a film in 2003 and received an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.
Jesper Arin is also from Sweden and previously performed Evil at the 2012 Fringe. This current performance is finely tuned and perfectly timed. Jesper speaks impeccable English with just the faintest hint of a Swedish accent, which acts as a reminder of the play’s setting. He wears everyday clothes with a jacket, the show has nothing more than fixed lighting and a chair. This simple minimalism ensures that nothing detracts from the story.
Jesper’s tale tells is gripping and distressing in itself, but his skills as a story-teller make the saga riveting. The easily-followed events flow chronologically and leave us eagerly anticipating what will happen next. His matter-of-fact style is one of bleak simplicity; there is no self-indulgence here, just honesty. Despite the traumatic nature of the events he describes, his voice and body language remain hauntingly calm in the narrative passages, while his range of tempos creates contrast between reflective moments and action.
Jesper moves around the intimate performing area with ease. This is his world, he imaginatively creates whole new locations through his positioning. Each position he assumes on the chair becomes a marker related to a recurring scene or character, he creates unique voices for each new character he brings into the story. His penetrating eyes which reach out to the audience and draw us into his tragic plight. Most expressive of all are his arms and hands, which are intricately bound to the story, as he uses sweeping gestures, pointed fingers, clenched fists, open palms, and many other configurations to bring added life to the text.
This is a masterclass in art of storytelling. Just don’t forget to take the tissues.