The Life and Times of Lionel

Fri 5th – Sat 13th August 2016

reviews

Grace Calvert

at 09:36 on 14th Aug 2016

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'The Life and Times of Lionel' follows a man desperate to break out of his mundane life. Stuck in an office with people he cannot stand, and the girl he cannot seem to get, Lionel’s fretful mind fills the stage as the four other actors of Forget About the Dog become voices within his consciousness. Despite some lovely moments of originality, 'The Life and Times of Lionel' fails to find any sense of a cohesive piece of drama.

The show incorporates mime and physical theatre to make Lionel’s boring daily routine more dynamic. There are moments that work, like ‘Hands’, a character created entirely with the gloved hands of the cast, but the movement often lacks imagination, and fails to lift Lionel’s boring life.

There are problems in the writing too. The show is all too often let down by jokes or bits running on too long. At one point Lionel is having a conversation with Emily, his crush, and his panic manifests it’s self as a group of sailors on a ship, tasked with navigating these ‘dangerous waters’. It is a funny idea, but it drags on so long that the humour is lost and it begins to feel self-indulgent. The play is seriously in need of someone with a red pen who can cut ruthlessly and tighten up the performance.

Outside of Lionel’s mind, each cast member plays one character from Lionel’s life. As well as Emily, we are introduced to Lionel’s Boss, his work friend and his nemesis. Emily and Lionel, played by Joshua Ling and Leanne Stenson, have a lovely bumbling chemistry. However the other three characters are exactly the same. All three men are some variation of posh, loud and unpleasant, a combination that is wearing thin by the end. There are also issues with the levels of acting within the play. The naturalistic Lionel and Emily clash with the heightened style of the three others. Once again I feel the lack of consistency.

There are lots of great moments within 'The Life and Times of Lionel', they just need some honing and editing to make this the sparky rip along show it has the potential to be.

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Emma Taylor

at 09:54 on 14th Aug 2016

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0disagrees

Forget About The Dog’s ‘The Life and Times of Lionel’ is an everyday masterpiece. It is a show that shines a light onto grey normality and illuminates it, making the ordinary heart-breaking, funny, and kind of beautiful.

The performance traces the day of Lionel, a character who seems to suffer from social anxiety and lack of self-confidence. This could have descended into a condescending portrayal of a dismal character, but what emerges is an onstage presence who is heart-rending in his awkwardness. We follow him from his morning routine – brushing teeth, getting dressed – to the office, where we see him fight the battle of the everyday, with photocopiers breaking, sad sandwiches for lunch and his colleagues who are incredible characters in their own right, blown-up projections of everyday terrors. Our hearts break for Lionel in his shy love for his co-worker, Emily, and his lost attempts to win her approval, and when his colleagues verbally attack his awkwardness, we die with him. For it is a show that focuses on the everyday, and here lies its brilliance. What is so key to the audience’s emotional response to Lionel is the way that we can all empathise with his worries and concerns, recognise in that character our own anxieties. It is as if all of our fears about awkwardness and humiliation are dressed onstage, and in exposing these, the show tackles some real issues.

This, although brilliant, has been done before – think of ‘The Office’ which made famous portraying the tragedies of the everyday. What is so different about this show is the way they portray these tragedies. There are four actors onstage, one being Lionel, and the rest being co-workers and Lionel’s own mind. They act out what happens in Lionel’s brain, performing scenarios he is afraid of, his thought process, giving his social anxieties, his awkwardness, a kind of beauty. ‘The Life and Times of Lionel’ is incredible in that they take our concerns and make them into art, which is often heartbreakingly funny. When Lionel is attempting to talk to Emily, his brain is a ship in the navy – ‘quick, fire a compliment!’ cries a sailor, and ‘abandon ship!’ when it sinks due to a misplaced comment from Lionel about his mum. Making normality so interesting needs incredible acting, and luckily, this has it. Lionel is played with a touching simplicity, and Tom Claxton is particularly impressive.

It is a rare performance that makes a sandwich a scene of heartbreak. ‘The Life and Times of Lionel’ does that, and more – it makes normality a theatre in itself.

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