Me, as a Penguin

Mon 24th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Josie Finlay

at 08:42 on 26th Aug 2015

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Stitch, the main character in My Life as a Penguin, is a gloomy young man attempting to reap the benefits of living with his heavily pregnant sister in Hull, finding solace in knitting, prescription medication and penguin kidnap when his foray into the gay scene fails to bear fruit. This situation sounds like it’s the start of a rip-roaring adventure, but a slightly disappointing blend of hit-and-miss acting and general amateurishness means that the production lacks the sufficient momentum to be properly entertaining.

Charlie Coombs as Stitch remains fun and endearing to watch throughout the play, and not just because of his cracking collection of pastel knitwear. His whole being is a vehicle of camp melancholia – he appears to be constantly on the verge of tears, with a furrowed brow and a severe and sweaty centre parting, while his shaking hands hold his knitting needles in a white-knuckled grip. The rest of the cast varies: Lydia Maxwell as Stitch’s sister Liz is convincingly pregnant and often funny, especially in the scene where she inelegantly sates her craving for Battenberg cake. Her speech, however, sometimes errs on the side of grating, with a repetitive, TV soap-like tone. Max Evans as Mark, Liz’s husband, is the weakest link, failing to really inhabit the character – his delivery is often forced, and he doesn’t bestow the part with much personality.

There are a few standout lines, mainly spoken by old soul Stitch – ‘I don’t even like sex that much to be honest, I’d rather have a good yoghurt.’ Aside from these, the lines are not especially original or memorable. The play is fixated on a gag about the sofa being a cause of animosity between the married couple – Liz hates it, Mark wants to keep it – and attempts to use it as some sort of plot-framing device, but the theme is neither funny nor interesting enough to really work.

The company aren’t particularly gifted in the art of comic timing, and don’t work perfectly as a unit – lines don’t bounce off each other, and there isn’t much chemistry between any of the characters, bar the sweet brother-sister relationship between Stitch and Liz. The arc of the actual story isn’t developed enough for the audience to actually care about the ending, meaning that what is intended to be a heart warming journey of self discovery falls somewhat flat. However, the redeeming qualities of the show - Coombs’ and usually Maxwell’s performances, surreal comic moments involving penguins in snoods, a Spongebob lunchbox - are good enough to make this a relatively enjoyable watch, if you pretend that it’s a school play.

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Chloe St George

at 09:25 on 26th Aug 2015

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“Take the worst of your life, turn it round and laugh at it – never did any harm, did it?” Unfortunately, this may not hold water in the case of Me, as a Penguin, as it relies too heavily on the odd funny line to balance out lacklustre characterisation and rather shallow treatment of darker themes. The central premise was amusing and the surprise roused a lot of laughter, but this joke card was played fairly early on, and the show was left to abandon the ridiculous and take a turn towards a regular sit-com, which was not its forte. However, this particular failure lies in the play itself, and not the fault of the cast and crew of this production.

Stitch, an openly gay man with a neurotic knitting habit, has gone to Hull to sample the gay scene in the big city. Whilst there, he is staying with his sister Liz, a heavily pregnant woman craving Battenberg, and her husband, the rather typically emotionally limited Mark, who hilariously uses his experience of working in IKEA to provide relationship advice. The rest of the play sees a string of surprises, domestic arguments, and some great one-liners.

Charlie Coombes as Stitch, is naturally watchable. His flustered disposition is consistent and convincing, and he also possesses comedic flair. He and Liz (Lydia Maxwell) – who incidentally dealt well with a sudden on-stage cough, are unfortunately the only actors to handle transitions between tones comfortably. Some of the most enjoyable scenes, however, were the arguments between Liz and Mark (Max Evans); high-energy ridiculousness between a highly-strung pregnant woman and a man who struggles to find the right thing to say were very funny and well-acted.

Tom Wells, the playwright, identifies his play to be about disappointment and being outside of one’s comfort zone. I feel this could be brought out more in this production. It would make for a comedic scene and avoid a sudden change in characterisation, for instance, if Mark played up his discomfort towards having a heart to heart with Stitch.

This show is commendable for its competent acting performances and handful of brilliant one-liners, but ultimately, it feels rather like a good school play.

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