I Heart Michael Ball is not about Michael Ball. Rather, it’s the story of Alex, the president of the Michael Ball Appreciation Society, and how he became to be so obsessed with the musical star from Bromsgrove.
As heart-breaking as it is weird and creepy, this one-man, one-hour show is a beautifully bizarre exploration of obsession borne of grief and trauma.
Alexander Millington plays the timorous Alex to perfection, nervously playing with the sleeve of his bright yellow coat. The character is truly believable in his fanaticism towards Michael Ball and although Alex descends to dark places, we can’t help but feel sympathy for him.
Alex starts off as a shy and coy character, excited to welcome us to a very special meeting of the Society to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Soon, however, Alex is recollecting tales of his childhood, detailing why Michael Ball means so much to him. Generally avoiding too much eye contact, the moments where he locks eyes with the audience are made all the more intense.
The audience is very much real in this show. Through occasional interactions, we all become a part of this special session of the Appreciation Society. We become a party to the events that play out, bystanders to madness.
Thankfully, this audience interaction isn’t overplayed and is never done during the more vulnerable moments of the show meaning no audience members are ever made to feel uncomfortable by the interactive elements. The Neville Studio at the Nottingham Playhouse is an intimate setting, with the audience close to the performer, ideal for a show of this kind.
Millington also wrote the script, and this shows through the deftness with which he navigates it. He twists moments of audience laughter into touching moments of grief. And can bring an audience from the brink of tears in his recollections of childhood trauma back to singing along to Michael Ball classics.
Although the show is essentially a monologue, the production uses movement in an impactful way, showing the agitated mind of Alex. Two chairs front-of-stage become an old car with a broken passenger door, and Alex sliding from driver’s seat to passenger seat is a well thought out motif used to good effect.
I Heart Michael Ball is well paced, introducing the more bizarre elements purposefully and gradually. However, the end of the play lacks the punch I was expecting from the show’s build up.
Make no mistake, this show is weird. But weird in the best possible sense of the word. As a character-study of a broken but passionate individual, this show truly excels.
The show is presented by Split Infinitive, Alexander and Helen Millington’s production company. The show next plays at the Brighton Fringe between 31 May and 2 June at the Lantern Theatre.