Monday, 1 July 2013

Views From The Gods review 28 June 2013

Death may be the last great adventure, but suicide still isn't something we tend to talk about. When people make that leap, it feels like society has let them down, making the topic an uncomfortable one for the living. But there is no such thing as a taboo subject when it comes to comedy, and black humour is inherently British. It's how we keep the stiff upper lip, we laugh at our own misfortunes and apologise non-stop. And it's certainly in evidence in Sophia Kingshill's bleak but enjoyable piece.
Having decided to kill herself, middle-aged office manager Jean Taylor (Maggie Gordon-Walker) is determined to go out with a bang, not a whimper, minimising any inconvenience caused to friends, family and passing acquaintances. It's both deeply amusing and deeply grim that over the course of a full hour, Jean struggles to find the time to kill herself. In a damning indictment of today's modern, busy world, life keeps getting in the way of death. Unwanted cold calls, a clingy ex, a rambling neighbour, a disgruntled customer - rarely do we relate to a character so much and yet find ourselves rooting for that person to snuff it.
Jean's constantly calm demeanour is what makes the play so funny, but it is also what gives rise to so many questions. At the end, when that mask briefly slips, we catch a glimpse of her true emotional state. But there's very little else to explain what has pushed her to take such dramatic action, we're left to work it out for ourselves.
The norm of one-person shows is for the actor to address or acknowledge the audience, but that wasn't the case here. The narrative is largely Jean's half of a telephone conversation, sometimes just her reading out-loud. At one point, we even observe her typing silently - very little happens. But this reinforces the banality and solitude of Jean's life.
Throughout the piece, Gordon-Walker's performance is excellent. Her character may be incredibly ordinary, but this makes for some unexpectedly funny - and truthful - one-liners.
Director Pradeep Jey succeeds in turning the stage into a believable home for Jean, as opposed to just a black box. The devil is in the detail - the highly organised desk drawers, the extension cables which may be necessary for the laptop and printer to work, nice touches, but which also hint at trying to pack too much in. This sense of place is emphasised by the choice of venue at the Camden People's Theatre. Stuck next to a main road, the ambient noise of passing traffic actually helps. His choice of music from The Monkees is also an apt - if literal - way to see the show both in and out.
Kingshill's writing could go further to touch upon the reasons as to why Jean has ended up in this predicament. But that may also be trying to make this into something it's not. Thankfully, for audiences, it is still a clever, witty piece with lots to love.

No comments:

Post a Comment