Review: Jerk (Brighton Fringe)

This curious and original sci-fi-influenced drama from Mudlarks Theatre, a company based in Hampshire, is currently showing in the Brighton Fringe, and is written by Nick Edgeworth.

Ivan (played by Edgeworth), Ellen (played by Harley Truslove), and Simon (played by Ryan Harris) are based in a young boy’s brain. When he is a baby and a child, things are simple, but as he grows to make his own decisions everything becomes much more difficult.

This reminded me a lot of Drive Carefully, Darling, a 1975 public information film in which three characters also battle within a man’s brain, but Jerk is more about peer pressure, guilt and shame, in the pursuit of happiness aka dopamine.

As the child nudges the pre-teen age Jerk covers teenage phases, the first erection (“should we touch it”), what is discouraged, and what is the best thing for the body and for others. It flirts with the idea that a man is led by his bodily functions rather than his brain, and then turns the idea on its head.

Promotional image for Jerk

Disturbing and edgy, this gives a new perspective on sexual development and the conflicted feelings it evokes in growing children. Under Ivan’s influence, an addiction moves into the realm of exciting and dangerous. Hormones and puberty lead to obsession with porn video sites, and system failures.

With Ellen acting as the mediator, and Simon as the worrier and moral arbiter, Ivan stands out as the problem of the trio: a first sexual experience for the now 15-year old they monitor becomes routine; a need to be “sexy and responsible” backfires as the continued relationship with the girl edges dangerously close to assault, or at the very least a breach of consent.

This is a very well written and acted, and slickly produced play. I did have some questions about why Ellen is a female voice in a male brain, and whether the ending was too easily reached, but overall this is a positive and accessible contribution to the discussion around influence, choice, consent, and how we relate to others.

Fringe rating: ****

Jerk is available at the Brighton Fringe until 27 June – book your tickets here (from £5).

For more about Mudlarks Theatre visit their website.