Fritz & Matlock is a new two-hander play by James Wallwork and Salvatore D’Aquilla that makes its way to the Pleasance Theatre’s autumn programming, after being written over Zoom during the pandemic. The show, produced by Part of the Main and directed by Jessica Millward, has been described as a contemporary ‘Waiting for Godot’, an almost tongue-in-cheek reference to how its two titular characters find themselves trapped in a dingy basement, grappling with the consequences of an unfortunate incident, and are waiting to make their next move. These are childhood friends Carl Fritz (D’Aquilla) and Barry Matlock (Wallwork) whose vastly different outlooks on life are, perhaps, only exceeded by their considerably different approaches to the situation at hand.
The story begins sometime mid-afternoon in the basement of Fritz’ grandmother’s house in Sheffield, the same house in whose attic he and Matlock have secretly been growing weed as a lucrative side hustle. Fritz, a manager with the Royal Mail, is getting married to his girlfriend Kelly the next day whilst Matlock, who’s the one-man-team behind the burgeoning grow-op, is struggling with the vast changes in his life. The latter’s frenetic obsession for security and privacy (in order to stay clear of the law) reaches a boiling point when he bludgeons an intruder to death. On the very eve of his wedding, Fritz hurries back to his grandmother’s house to deal with this sticky situation and finds himself at the receiving end of Matlock’s temper as well as his own hang-ups about dealing with a dead body. As they bring the body to the basement, they discover they are locked from the outside. Disposing evidence, cleaning bloodstains and evading passers-by might be the least of their worries as their friendship (and patience with each other) begins to be tested. As they confront the demons of their past, conversations turn into confessions and accusations turn into anxious cries for help.
The story and characters are a refreshing take on a situational trope that’s not unfamiliar to the dramatic world – two people stuck in space, time and action with nowhere to go and nothing to do. This comedy of menace does not fall back only on circular conversations to carry it through but also brings forth the deeper arguments about dealing with childhood trauma, adulthood anxieties and changing circumstances through its well-crafted characters. D’Aquilla’s portrayal of the nervous, socially awkward Fritz is delightfully funny, appealing to the “logical” side of our brain. Wallwork’s Matlock is cold, put-together and precise, where his decisiveness borders on the absurd and brings out the inherent humour in the situation, and by extension, also lays the ground for the power dynamic of their friendship. Millward’s direction embellishes the spoken text with subtle movement and body language of the performers, who use it to effectively shift between the present action and past flashbacks. These shifts are complemented by the tight-knit light design that oscillates between a free, unrestricted ambient environment (a nod to the ‘high’ its characters enjoy with home-grown blunts) as well as a sensation of being trapped with no escape, the latter further emphasized by its minimal, straight-lined set design that places the performers on opposing ends.
Combining sharp-witted dialogue and situational humour with subtly-crafted production elements, Fritz & Matlock is an endearing attempt to bring out the best (and worst) of the dysfunctional relationships we carry and one’s journey to acknowledge (or better, confront) the writing on the wall (or in this case, the sounds in the freezer).
You can watch Fritz & Matlock at the Pleasance Theatre N7 9EF until 17th October. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/fritz-matlock
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 5th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★