Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

25/09/2010 - 16/10/2010

Production Details


Making his return on stage, the incomparable Oliver Driver channels the darkly comic yarns of the titular protagonist in the award winning THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING), playing at the Herald Theatre from September 24th.

Meet Thom Pain. An enigmatic everyman in a sharp suit but no socks.

He’s got an itch to scratch and he needs your help. Armed with a wicked attitude and a broken heart, he’ll weave narrative threads of childhood trauma, yearning, that thing called the human condition, a bee sting and a boy who died. In his quest for salvation, he’ll stop at nothing, be distracted by nothing. Except maybe a piece of lint. Or the woman in the second row. 

Will Eno’s hip-to-the-hurt symphony of linguistic gymnastics became an underground phenomenon in London in 2004. It transferred to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has since touched down in Paris, New York, Sydney, Sao Paolo and Berlin.

It sounds simple enough. One man, charismatic but disturbed, is alone onstage. Sharing tangential anecdotes and blackly funny meanderings, he’ll keep the audience guessing as to why this seemingly bright young man has become so broken. And he’ll let them know, if he can remember. 

Described by The San Francisco Weekly as a show that “has all the emotion in that moment before a first kiss… or a fist fight”, THOM PAIN earned rave reviews upon it’s debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, receiving the Fringe First Award alongside both the Herald Angel Award and Best Actor award for James Urbaniak. 

Urbaniak and the show ventured to perform off-Broadway in 2005 to further enthusiastic reviews, with the actor nominated for a 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and the production a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama nomination. Eno has been compared to other literary greats – The New York Times describing him as “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.” 

Last year, Oliver Driver set audiences on fire with his wow-factor performance in Ruben Guthrie. Who else but he could step into the enigmatic boots of THOM PAIN, pulling off the charming and shocking acerbic wit and vulnerability of character? It’s been a year of highs and lows for Driver – following the abrupt cancellation of Sunrise earlier this year, he’s recently bounced back, directing Stephen Sondheim’s knockout musical Assassins at the Auckland Town Hall. 

Shaping this potentially unreliable narrator is director Peter Elliott, who made his professional directing debut in 2009 with the critically acclaimed production of The Scene. It’s been a busy year for Elliott, performing in productions of Ruben Guthrie, God of Carnage and When the Rain Stops Falling and co-hosting TV One’s Match Fishing League. He collaborates with Driver for the fourth time on this unique, personal and idiosyncratic theatre experience which defies classification, but is simply too good too miss.

“…A small masterpiece … Will Eno is an original, a maverick wordsmith … Sublime …”        – The New York Times  

September 24th – October 16th 2010
Herald Theatre, THE EDGE
Tickets: $25 – $45  service fees will apply 
Bookings through THE EDGE: 0800 BUYTICKETS or  

Ennui and bitterness with brilliant linguistic moments

Review by Sian Robertson 26th Sep 2010

Thom Pain walks onto the stage and tries, unsuccessfully, to light a cigarette in the dark. He reads us something – in the dark. He discusses our collective human plight and whether the lights are likely to come on. He talks to us as though we’re in a therapy session. At times he’s mundane, at times profound, but mostly he’s relentlessly depressing.

This one’s for masochists. With the skill of a surgeon, Oliver Driver mercilessly inflicts the dislikeable character of Thom Pain on his generally affable audience.

Pain tells crushing stories from his boyhood and adulthood – of the death of his dog, being stung by bees and being stung by the love of his life – pontificates on the nature of the mind that willingly sets itself up for abuse, makes assumptions about and insults various audience members.

He’s telling us a story, with urgency, as though it’s something unpleasant he has to get out but it’s coming to him slowly, in impressions and bits and pieces. He veers off on tangents as though he’s unsure whether it’s worth talking about some of this stuff, pauses mid-stream, tells jokes to which he’s forgotten the punch line. He skilfully manipulates the audience, teasing us with uncomfortable silences and subtle sarcasm.

I wondered whether he’d get any heckles, as Thom Pain is a hybrid of stand-up comic, motivational speaker and storyteller, though he doesn’t settle comfortably into any of these roles. He directs questions at specific audience members – sometimes waiting to see if they nod or shake their head, sometimes not, but in either case making it clear he doesn’t give a damn what we think anyway. At one point he even clambers up among the seats looking for a ‘volunteer’. The mute crowd were either too well behaved, or too afraid of him, to heckle. Anyway, I suspect Driver would have had a stinging comeback for anything we could have thrown at him.

Playwright Will Eno seems to have been trying do ‘something different’ for its own sake. Oh dear. Unfortunately he threw the baby out with the bathwater. He’s been described as a modern Samuel Beckett, and if you like Beckett you may like this, in the sense that it is a nihilistic story full of linguistic gymnastics without a beginning or an end.

Thom Pain oozes ennui and bitterness, and gets it all over everyone. He is not an ‘enigmatic everyman’, but a self-indulgent, maudlin prat. The monologue seems to be a study on dashed innocence, mistrust, pain and consequently self-pity, for the navel-gazing Y generation.

Thom Pain isn’t uniformly despicable. There are moments when his hurt breaks through the glib facade and you feel a tinge of sympathy. Also, amongst the tedium of his generic stories of thwarted innocence told with the air of an avant-garde poet, lengthy pauses, tangents and asides, there are a handful of brilliant linguistic moments – witty, vivid, insightful. I only wish there were more of these.

Disappointingly, there is no redemption or watershed, no enlightening conclusion. Thom Pain is pretty much the same self-pitying loser he was 70 minutes ago. I was also expecting it to be funnier – that is, Driver gets his laughs where laughter is due, but the script doesn’t allow for much levity. I was reluctantly impressed by the ability to fill a room with people only to manipulate them into experiencing hopelessness, uncertainty and humiliation. Self-doubt seems to have been the objective; the message: life is a series of beestings from which we never fully recover.

One person walked out – it was pretty near the start so my guess is this was a plant so that Pain could say rude things and draw poignant parallels with himself and the rest of us who didn’t leave; someone else fell asleep (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an act). Several others looked either bored or disgusted. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Norelle Scott October 8th, 2010

 I profoundly disagree with this review. This is an exquisitely written play, beautifully performed with delicacy and precision. This production has been directed with a wonderful sense of tone and balance. I found the character deeply engaging and wonderfully realized. Do not let this review put you off. You may miss a rare opportunity to see an exceptional production of an inspiring and moving play. And yes I found it funny. I laughed out loud. Norelle Scott

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