EFR - Reviews of A Reason to Smile

A Reason to Smile

Tue 20th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

James Bell

at 21:23 on 20th Aug 2013

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‘A Reason to Smile,’ a Blue Tree Theatre Company production that explores the breakdown of a relationship is often visually arresting and quietly thought-provoking, but what it achieves stylistically would have been improved by a stronger and more carefully conceived script.

Connor Chambers as Christopher and Lucy Ioannou as Jo are highly confident performers and from the moment they appear on stage it is obvious that they are comfortable together, which creates an instantly believable and affecting first scene. As the two lovers revisit the memories of their burgeoning and then failing relationship the audience will find much to identify with and the small performance space creates a sense of intimacy between the performers and spectators. However, much of the dialogue, particularly when the couple was fighting, was very familiar and I questioned how useful it was to have the characters scream “What do you want from me?” and “I can’t do this anymore!” Surely a production attempting to depict a “roller coaster of emotions” and which was crossing the boundary between two performance genres should be aiming for something more original.

The writing, although impressive in places, constantly felt a little underdeveloped. Had the audience been granted a greater sense of the characters’ inner the show could have gone from a perfectly competent but unmemorable performance to something more enduring. Ioannou’s character was particularly one dimensional and showed an almost shocking level of recalcitrance when faced with the breakdown of her relationship. The script also surrounded her with references to Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens (supposedly to show her literary bent) but which in fact added little to our sense of her within the parameters of the play.

However the choreographed elements of the performance were well conceived and integrated seamlessly with the spoken sections. The show’s major strength was in the quality of its ideas. During what was only a very brief 40 minute performance, the script touches on domestic violence, the blurred line between loyalty and love, and the impossibility of fully knowing another person. But, once again, the writing didn’t rise to the challenges that these big ideas laid down. I felt that ‘A Reason to Smile’ was perpetually teetering on the edge of something brilliant but just didn’t quite make it.

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Christian Kriticos

at 11:05 on 21st Aug 2013

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‘A Reason to Smile’ is a production of minimalism rare even for the Fringe. With just two chairs, two actors, and a scattering of books onstage, the play takes us through the tumultuous relationship between Jo (a wannabe novelist) and Christopher (a volunteer at the local library) in the space of forty minutes. The play shifts back and forth from the sour ending of the relationship, to its rose-tinted beginnings. Interspersed between these scenes are brief wordless choreographed routines set to music, which are supposed to highlight the different stages of falling in and out of love.

The structuring of the play works nicely, but the audience never becomes fully invested in the characters. One should always be dubious of a production that promises a “roller coaster of emotions”, and ‘A Reason to Smile’ is no exception. Connor Chambers plays the part of Christopher with an enjoyable sense of cheeky schoolboy charm, and Lucy Ioannou is equally good as the sceptical object of his affection. These scenes of Christopher wooing Jo are the most enjoyable and the humour is well-handled and unforced. However, when it comes to the more intense argument scenes the passion is never quite there.

Likewise, some of the quickfire dialogue feels unnatural. This is unusual given that the play seems keen to ground itself in reality, acknowledging that Jo and Christopher’s relationship continues not because of love, but simply because they each feel they have some sort of obligation to the other. This sense of honesty is a large part of the play’s strength: just as we begin to favour one character over the other, they reveal their flaws in equal measure.

The fact that Lucy Ioannou is just seventeen, and who wrote, co-directed, choregraphed (with Bethan Stoll), and starred in the play, is very impressive. The main problem is simply that it doesn't really show us anything we haven’t seen before. Nonetheless, ‘A Reason to Smile’ is a solid production – with a bit of script polishing it could easily move up to the next level.

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