Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions**** (Tabard Theatre)

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Theatre

OhtheHumanityNEWframe2This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone…” said Orson Welles and the same conclusion comes to mind after seeing Will Eno’s quirky exploration of the human condition. Ordinary people, each with their own foibles, strengths and inadequacies are depicted as if small vessels adrift on a vast ocean, looking desperately for a mooring. This 2007 work by the American writer, performed in 2012 at the Edinburgh Festival and then in London, is actually five short plays linked very loosely together. Eno has a skill for taking everyday conversational cliches and platitudes and twisting them slightly so that they are exposed as meaningless. A sports coach (Jonathan Kemp), speaking to the press at the end of a disastrous season, offers the excuse that “habit is the hardest habit to break”; an airline spokesperson (Claire Lichie) explains to grief-stricken relatives after a plane crash “gravity, we trust, was a factor”. The spotlight of public attention has fallen on these characters, but all they want is to retreat into their own worlds, he to write sonnets, she to mourn her own father who simply died in a chair. Two young singles (Esme Patey-Ford and Joseph Stevenson) become isolated in front of cameras, recording videos for a dating agency and rendered inarticulate when asked to talk about themselves. He boasts of being “good at food shopping” and lists amongst his interests “not travelling”. She claims to have been described as “the girl next door”, adding coyly and without irony “by the neighbours”. The first three scenes have the feel of comedy sketches, but there then follows a wistful piece examining lives caught on camera more than a century ago and, finally, in the play’s bleakest section, we see a married couple (Kaye Brown and Keith Hill) completely disengaged from each other. They sit in what one thinks is a car, the other two chairs; they agree that they are going to church, but she looks forward to a christening, whilst he is preparing for a funeral. The pair are bound together, yet their isolation is total. Paul Lichstenstern’s revival offers a lucid interpretation of a play that is often abstract in nature and the performances are uniformly excellent. The set, designed by Andy Edwards, is a cluttered photographic studio in which the actors stand or sit around the periphery, moving to a white centre stage for their own scenes. Haunting piano music which links the scenes gives the entire production a pervading air of melancholy. This is a highly unusual work of theatre, amusing, thought-provoking and rewarding.

Performance date: 4 September 2014

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