What Kind of Fool am I?

Fri 5th – Sat 13th August 2016

reviews

Richard Birch

at 21:53 on 13th Aug 2016

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Dangerously anti-intellectual nonsense drives this one-woman show. A self-indulgent narrative of her own life, Helen Wood charts her course from school to university to teaching to a life in the arts. Throughout references to the worst excesses of the psychoanalytic tradition and cursory glances to dropped names like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (this play shares almost nothing in common with either his Dark Romanticism or his scientific rigour) render this a rather dramatic failure of quasi-philosophy.

Analysing the personality types of different people in her life (her dog is an ‘Achiever', apparently), she seems to believe that everyone can be so simply compartmentalised. Upon reading the ‘Enneagram' test given out at the end of the show, I notice that I probably conform to about five of the nine categories. Whether this means I am an enormously intricate person who breaks the boundaries of the programme, or, more likely, that the programme itself is devised by someone who suspects that epistemology is the study of the intestines. The fact that this programme was apparently discovered on an adults’-only holiday camp leaves me with nothing but concern for the future of humanity. And holidays.

Some quiet moments of genuinely thoughtful rumination do manage to break into this litany of inadequacy; however, the great shame is that these moments are brushed aside. Instead of these very serious stories being developed in their own right as poignant plot-lines, they only serve to enhance the narrative of Wood's own life. It is this egocentricism that really makes this play ultimately something of a failure.

The narrative development of her life moving from Birmingham, to London, to Stroud, is implied to be something of a circle. This is indicative of a slightly odd sense of unusual purpose that she seems to feel her life has been given. This arrogance does nothing to help the show, adding another air of condescension to something which already feels as if it is being given from on high by a guru to the uneducated masses.

To a lay person with even a cursory knowledge of psychology, a lot of the content of this play feels so much like incoherent mumbo-jumbo, that instead of feeling like I had learnt anything; I emerge with a slight headache and a feeling of being ineffectively brainwashed. There is, admittedly, an emotional core to this play which does briefly reach out to the viewer – but as a whole, it is an unendurable watch.

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Kate Nicholson

at 23:15 on 13th Aug 2016

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Helen Wood’s one-hour monologue is a cringe-worthy attempt to turn her life story into an epic. The trouble is, her life is not really the stuff of epics. In a show where she half-heartedly mocks herself and tries to dabble in self-deprecation at her own foolish, (but not captivatingly disastrous) life choices Wood makes one feel rather uncomfortable. Is she trying to be funny, informative or confessional? Unfortunately, these were all categories with which she does not quite comply.

Wood takes her audience on a rather long journey from birth to current day. Informing us of exactly how she has stumbled through life, making mistakes from choosing to do a psychology degree (without researching it and realising it is a science based subject) to job choices (falling into teaching out of desperation), the audience spends an infuriating half an hour listening to Wood describe her inactive, lethargic attitude to life. This could be redeemed if injected with some personal anecdotes, but instead Wood takes this time to create a physical list of her less appealing personality traits (which she has printed and laminated, just in case you forget). This makes the stage look more akin to a primary school classroom especially in addition to the voodoo doll she has made for one of her primary school pupils. That is a particularly dark moment.

Not to fear though, she does find the answer to who she is eventually; after decades and decades of uncertainty, the 'Enneagram' test comes to her rescue. The test which decides exactly what category of person you are out of nine available options; a paragraph describing your main character attributes, which apparently was utterly life-changing for Wood. A Type 1 or a Type 7? Take the test, Helen encourages. You will find yourself now that you can confine yourself to a category. Just like Wood did.

There is an emotive core to the piece, however, which cannot be overlooked, and gives the piece a moving foundation. Her performance is also well-rehearsed, she occupies the stage well and is refreshingly honest about how life does not always work out as smoothly as one hopes.

I should also mention that all the seats in the audience were taken, her performance having enticed quite a crowd. So if you are stuck in a life crisis, and would like some consolation that Helen Wood has found herself after decades of being lost, then perhaps this show is for you. For everyone else, it probably is not.

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