If That's All There Is

Mon 22nd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Bethany Knibb

at 00:22 on 26th Aug 2011

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I think most people can identify with the tedium of listening to a groom’s speech at his wedding – thanking everyone for organising or attending, listing absent friends and generally talking about how incredible his bride is. As Daniel (Ben Lewis) meticulously recites his speech, his new wife (Frances, played by Lucinka Eisler) sits at his side; crazed.

Inspector Sands Theatre have been credited by the Guardian for “turning anxiety into an artform”, which perfectly encapsulates this production. More polished than a pair of military boots, this is an insight into the world of paranoia, confusion, anxiety and other psychosis-related afflictions.

I won’t lie to you here – I didn’t understand what was going on 100% of the time. In actual fact, I was probably only following about a third of the action. After careful consideration, I decided that this must be the whole point of the production – as an audience member you become party to the confusion and perplexities of being unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. What is clear is that all the characters are varying levels of mentally unstable, and teetering on the verge of breakdown.

The humour is not what I would call “explosive”, but the audience are kept in such a state of emotional elevation that there is tittering laughter much of the way through. Ben Lewis’ wit shines through in the script, which is backed up by dramatic devices and props that add thrilling theatrics to the production (my favourites of which were the popcorn and the shredded paper). Giulia Innocenti seems to have an absolute ball playing her characters on stage; performing the psychiatrist with (concerning) strength and skill. Her character is somewhat reminiscent of madcap Sue White from Green Wing (Channel 4) in that she seems so sure of herself, but is unpredictable in a fashion that makes her fascinating to watch.

While there’s clearly a deeper level to this play – one that addresses love and happiness, hate and instability – any message was, for me, quite firmly buried under silliness. While this might be seen as a weakness (mine or the play's), my opinion is that the best productions are the ones that do not try and force their views on the audience but let them absorb it through osmosis. In all, this is a delightfully entertaining piece of theatre that does well from not taking itself too seriously.

Perhaps, if you are organising your own wedding, it might be fun to come along and remind yourself: things could be so. much. worse.

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Donnchadh O'Conaill

at 13:12 on 26th Aug 2011

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Inspector Sands’ reprise of their 2009 hit is funny, slick and at times very impressive. Frances and Daniel are about to get married, but neither is really prepared for what’s about to happen. Daniel starts going to a psychiatrist, complaining of his fiancé’s erratic behaviour; Frances is observed in her office by a nervous but fascinated work-experience girl. The production and acting are first-rate throughout, but I was left with the distinct impression of a show too pleased with its own cleverness to worry too much about what its raison d’être might be.

Ben Lewis (Daniel) is the most straightforwardly comic of the cast, portraying a man condemned to think and speak in manager-ese. Lucinka Eisler (Frances) is allowed more pathos, which she is capable of spinning into bathos with a single twitch. Giulia Innocenti plays both the psychiatrist and the work-experience girl, very different observers of the main characters. These parts felt relatively underwritten, but Innocenti diligently mines them for laughs, and her interaction with the others is never less than proficient.

The staging is often striking and always clever, with sharp transitions between scenes, slickly integrated projections and music, and deft mood changes where needed. The script had a similar slickness, skipping through time and space, presenting scenes that were alternatively real, imagined, and play-acted. At times the rhythm of the piece was more akin to sketch comedy than narrative theatre, and indeed some of the scenes and characters seemed designed solely to win laughs rather than develop the plot.

If this was all the show aimed to achieve, then it would be hard to fault. It isn’t consistently funny – it relies rather too much on kitsch songs and cultural references to carry the audience along – but there are some delightful scenes. A romantic encounter between Daniel and Frances collapses under the twin pressures of passion and ergonomics; Daniel struggles to tell the psychiatrist anything about himself beyond the most trivial details; the psychiatrist cradles Daniel in her lap while Frances chops an onion to help herself cry; Frances snubs the work-experience girl without even realising it.

However, for each of these scenes there is one which is neither as clever nor, in my opinion, as funny (although I should add that the audience seemed to enjoy it more than I).More generally, one had the distinct impression of hidden shallows: a show happy to skewer the lack of fulfilment in our quotidian lives, the gap between desires and reality, but which has little to say on what we ought to do about it. This might be one way to think about the difference between narrative theatre and sketches; a bigger picture which the former can articulate from its individual scenes. As it is, we were given a series of vignettes on some pretty well-worn themes, with characters that neither went anywhere nor had been developed with much individuality to begin with. It would be perfectly possible to say that the show worked because of these, but I felt more disappointment that they weren’t fashioned into anything greater.

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