Meek was tone-deaf. He was gay in an age when homosexual acts were still a criminal offence. He believed that he was in contact, through séances, with the late Buddy Holly. Dubbed "the Ed Wood of lo-fi", he was obsessive about his homemade technology.
The piece begins at the end, with the police interrogation of his PA after Meek had shot dead his landlady and then himself in February 1967. It then backtracks to 1961 and moves forward in yearly leaps, covering the period from when it seemed that Meek might inherit the earth, to the time when his sci-fi sounds had been superseded by The Rolling Stones (whom he'd dismissed as "a little warm-up act") and The Beatles ("Brian's a lovely man, but he doesn't have a clue what the kids want...").
Con O'Neill turns in a magnificent performance in the central role. At the start, there's a touchingly camp, mother-hen quality to this bequiffed fanatic with his naff West Country burr, and Paul Jepson's production engagingly evokes a world that's still more Terence Rattigan than Joe Orton, with Linda Robson's likeable landlady complaining she can't hear The Navy Lark because of the electronic racket. Via a humiliating crush on a pretty but worthless singer, Heinz Burt (Joseph Morgan), a plagiarism suit brought by a French composer that ruinously froze his "Telstar" royalties, and a cottaging conviction that estranged him from his writing partner, we watch as Meek descends into the depths of pill-popping paranoia.
The great thing about O'Neill's portrayal is that it never succumbs to the temptation of caricaturing the man. His downfall was caused by a combination of bad luck and pre-existing psychological damage. The play is rather sketchy about the causes of the latter. As his life closes in on him, Meek delivers an awkward-sounding confession to his PA (Roland Manookian) about the army experiences of his forebears that have made him unable to take orders. This speech would feel unduly belated if it weren't for the fact that O'Neill, by the sheer quality of his acting, pulls us inside the nervous system of this extraordinary figure.
To 10 September (0870 060 6627)Reuse content