EFR - Reviews of Life According to Saki

Life According to Saki

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 17:16 on 20th Aug 2016

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'Life According to Saki' may seem, at first, to be merely a bundle of witticisms and wry grins. But quickly it becomes apparent that this is a very sensitive, moving play, which tackles mortality, absurdity and human frailty with a light, humorous touch.

The young cast is like a well-oiled machine, each of the actors working together to create a huge variety of landscapes and characters. David Paisley takes on the role of Saki, a writer-turned-soldier in the trenches of World War I. He brings an affable quality to the character, and an undeniable charisma. All his lines are delivered directly to the audience, as he narrates parts of his own life and the many stories he has written. The rest of the cast (Caitlin Thorburn, Eddie Arnold, Ellen Francis, Phoebe Francis Brown, Tom Lambert) serve as his puppets, acting out each of his tales. The style of acting across the whole cast is vivacious, almost pantomimic, but not to the extent that it becomes cheesy. The actors show off their versatility by taking on multiple roles, such as a fearsome great-aunt, a mischievous prince or a pompous politician.

What is most inventive about this production is how the actors create their own sound effects, set and props just using their voices and bodies. They make train noises, seagull calls and the sound of a mechanical tiger. They also create cars, animals and train journeys by arranging themselves in ingenious ways, or by simply jiggling up and down. Projections are also used to great effect, combining shadow puppetry and scenery.

The stories themselves are full of surprises, ranging from lighthearted, to clever, to downright creepy. A parable involving a ferret is particularly unnerving, combining blood-red lighting, hyped-up tribal music, an eerie child puppet and aggressive dancing. But mainly, the stories have satisfying twists and amusing turns of phrase, making the audience chortle appreciatively.

Saki’s thoughtful narration really emphasises the idea that life is a bizarre thing, and that death comes all too quickly. Despite this acknowledgement of the inevitability of death, this show is truly life-affirming as it encourages you to grab life with both hands and, in the words of Saki, “live hugely”. The play ends on a bittersweet note, showing that life isn’t all funny stories about hyenas, and making the audience consider their own attitude to life’s absurdities.

All in all, this play provides both amusement and food for thought, as many of the best plays do. But what is really impressive is how the cast comes together to form a single unit, demonstrating how effective a great ensemble can be at storytelling.

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Lizzy Galliver

at 10:32 on 21st Aug 2016

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“I used to be kind, innocent and naïve”, Saki (David Paisley) tells the quickly enraptured audience. “Now I am only kind”. While these words, neatly repeated at beginning and end to frame the play, allude to the sobering themes of hardship and horror in war, they are tempered by the bright eyes and optimistic smile that come to characterise our lovable storyteller. ‘Life According to Saki’ narrates a colourful array of life stories as recorded by twentieth-century Scottish writer and World War I soldier Hector Hugh Munro (aka Saki). Surreal social situations, a witty script and consistently dynamic acting render this piece of theatre an immediate Fringe favourite.

Appropriately drab uniformed costumes and a sombre set of mud and sandbags serve as constant reminders of trench warfare; the echo of gunfire is always precariously close; delight in a firework show tragically fades into fear of falling bombs. Alongside an air of inevitable melancholy, however, are greater tales of life, love, art, religion, ambition, money – tales that whisk us away on a fantastically absurd journey to all corners of the earth (literally, that is… both Tunbridge Wells and Burma feature). Aided charmingly by imaginative onstage devices, and a remarkably cohesive acting ensemble, the hilarious frivolity of upper-class Edwardian society is brought to life before our eyes.

Use of humour is sharp and overwhelmingly successful. A particular highlight is Caitlin Thorburn’s clucking rendition of a "fighting cock" (it doesn’t sound funny, but I promise it is). In fact, the actors’ frequent simulations of inanimate objects and farm animals elicit copious amounts of laughter from start to finish. And when a wonderfully devised scene depicting a terrifying child puppet worshipping ferret-cum-deity Sredni Vashtar (need I say more) is accompanied by an excellently choreographed cult-like dance, the audience is left wondering which farcical scenes the cast will not perfect.

As the lights go down, the air is filled with a quick-fire list of inspirational quotations, adapted skilfully from Saki’s source material. “The best stories”, we are advised, “are the improper stories”. Darkly funny and unexpectedly uplifting, ‘Life According to Saki’ is one such example.

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