Review: Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), streamed from the Old Fitz Theatre

A play about anxious masculinity that isn't short on tragic humour.

We all know that one pompous man who is always impeccably dressed and whose scornful comments are delivered with charming manners. Will Eno’s Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) offers a window into the underbelly of such a man and shows the insecurity beneath his arrogance. This is a play about anxious masculinity that is not short on tragic humour.

Thom Pain by Red Line Production is a one-man play starring Australian award winning actor Toby Schmitz performing a frantic monologue that gives voice to the inconveniences of the modern mind. Schmitz begins confessing his inability to stop smoking, and then he erratically jumps between the memories of his childhood traumas and his failures to love and connect with women.

In the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Line Production is streaming this show online from Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre. Thom Pain aptly suits the meditative demands of the current global pandemic which has prompted many of us to listen to silenced thoughts and revisit crippling memories. It puts the audience in the role of intimate confidants of a trying man in the grasp of difficult emotions and invites to listen with empathy and compassion. After all, we can’t really interact with Schmitz, even when he desperately tries to engage the public with direct questions.

Schmitz’s acting is impeccable. He is honest and intimate. His deep voice and hand gestures maintain the audience’s attention which is diffused with a combination of fast talking and awkward silences. He seems to talk just to fill silence, and when he is silent, he looks down and pushes his glasses up his nose. He is almost endearing.

This streaming adaptation of Thom Pain has made excellent use of filming techniques. The show is presented through the glass of nine cameras, all of which give an insight into different sides of Schmitz’s confessional journey. Close-ups invite the audience into the pain of Schmitz, while long shots remind us that, after all, we are separate and distant beings. A particularly interesting effect is delivered by the use of blended shots to superimpose Schmitz’s front and back as a remark of the multifaceted nature of human existence.

Thom Pain is not an easy play to power through. It is often uncomfortable and pathetic, albeit hilariously sardonic. You have to be sure to enjoy sarcasm to appreciate this show. Personally, this intimate monologue helped me unearth the inaccessible feelings of over-confident men with a sense of empathy and the occasional smile.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) by Will Eno streamed from the Old Fitz Theatre
Red Line Production
Featuring Toby Schmitz
Directed: Andrew Henry and Toby Schmitz
Booked tickets starting from $10, Access via Red Line Production’s YouTube channel 29 June-4 July 2020

Federica Caso
About the Author
Federica Caso is a political analyst and writer. She has recently completed her PhD in International Politics at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the politics of aesthetics and art. She is interested in how art and culture are co-opted in systems of power and domination, and used as instruments of political resistance. She has written, hosted events, and facilitated discussions about the politics of aesthetics. She is a board member of House Conspiracy, an art centre located in West End, Brisbane.