Review: The Martin Decker Show, The Riverfront, Newport

Andy Howells witnesses a special in-person Q&A screening of The Martin Decker Show with Kieron Self and Richard Elis at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre.

When a worldwide pandemic stopped an in-development theatre production in its tracks, producer and writer, Kevin Jones, along with producer and actor, Keiron Self, went back to the drawing board.

Their project, The Martin Decker Show, following the online misadventures of a recently unemployed middle-aged father of two, estranged from his wife and family, was developed into a series of YouTube videos. The series was filmed at a safe distance on iPhones and Go Pros, for virtually no cost, on location, in a bathroom.  

As the videos unfolded, audiences witnessed Martin Decker (Keiron Self) address a variety of topics as diverse as attempting death-defying bicycle stunts, contacting aliens, and microwaving a stomach-churning jacket potato. It is highlights from these videos, along with documentary style interviews, found footage, plus strategically placed fuzzy felt and plasticine animation, that helped The Martin Decker Show phenomenon develop into a documentary-style comedy film over the next few years, giving an insight into the man in front of the camera.

While there can be a lot of comic value in a middle-aged YouTuber, it’s the underpinning tragedy of the protagonist’s life, and determining whether his real target audience are his fans or his estranged family, that ultimately pulls you in.

Martin Decker’s online walk-through of Minecraft becomes one of the film’s most defining moments as he encounters his young son within the game. A moment of emotional despair at his loss is followed by a show of strength as Martin attempts to delight his fanbase with an exercise film.

Throwing himself into his art, Martin carries on, while life continues to crumble around him. Even those he encounters along the way have their own personas with conflicting personal issues.All are beautifully portrayed, by many actors familiar to South Wales theatre audiences including a former work colleague (Francois Pandolfo), an online stalker (Elin Phillips), a fight arranger (Kevin McCurdy) and a rival YouTuber in the shape of LockDad (Richard Elis)!

Initially, we don’t see Martin’s wife and children, the film cleverly displays the void they have left in his life with discarded toys and on-screen references. The appearance of Lynne Seymour as Naomi in the films climax provides a beautiful twist, and neatly pulls everything we have witnessed in the previous hour together, while giving Martin (and the audience) a glimmer of hope for his future.

There are many comic protagonists I have come to love over the years, and Martin Decker is up there with them, because ultimately, we want him to win through. Keiron Self already has many wondrous stage and screen comic performances to his credit and really pours his heart and soul into Martin Decker, giving us a character that is as unbelievably believable, while both infuriating and endearing!

The Martin Decker Show experience was enhanced even further on Thursday evening when a screening at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre was cleverly bookended by an introduction and Q&A from both Keiron Self as Martin and Richard Elis as LockDad.

Both actors kept the presentation fun (aided by a cardboard cut-out Matt Damon – an actor of whom Martin is comically compared to in the film) while encompassing carefully placed acknowledgements to the film’s plot and keeping Martin Decker’s ongoing struggles in context.

Addressing Mental Health issues in the modern world, The Martin Decker Show, displays that no matter how hopeless or hapless we may be, there is always a way to win through.

The Martin Decker Show resonates by genuinely making us laugh and cry with the protagonist. That’s what real comedy is all about and ultimately both Kevin Jones and Keiron Self have given us something rather special. Future screenings will undoubtedly be on the cards. Do not miss this incredibly funny and thought provoking film!

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