David Lynch would probably get a kick out of What Broke David Lynch?, the curious new play from Fringe veteran Paul Vickers (aka Fringe stalwart Mr Twonkey). Audiences, however, might be less forgiving of its surreal meanderings. It’s not that the play is hard to follow – it imagines Lynch’s mental state during the production of his 1980 film The Elephant Man. What it’s trying to communicate, though, is less clear, although perhaps that’s for the best given a literal reading could be that women are frivolous distractions from whom genius auteurs should steer clear.
We find Lynch (played by Vickers) in a bad way during The Elephant Man’s preproduction. First off, he is struggling to get the makeup right – his handcrafted concoction is “sweating”. And second, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl called Dorothy Donut (Miranda Shrapnell) is invading his dreams. Why these dreams are so twee, though, is anyone's guess. They certainly don't ring true as being from the subconscious that brought us the likes of Eraserhead and Inland Empire. More fun are scenes featuring Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins, who enter wearing huge nightmarish papier-mâché heads and bitch from the sidelines about the shoot.
It makes sense to reimagine the chaotic preproduction of Lynch’s first studio film as a fever dream, but while this one-off director’s own films take you into slithery halls of mirrors that rewire your brains and let you see the world anew, more often than not, the whimsical dream sequences in What Broke David Lynch? just leave you scratching your head.