Lion and Unicorn Theatre
A graphic artist is asked to create a picture strip and this play presents the story as he devises it, complete with inventing the characters and second thoughts about what happens. It goes at a cracking pace with actors each playing a couple of roles and plunging them straight into interaction without much opportunity to set up relationships and situations and that's part of the fun - but it does make for confusion as to what is really going on and who they are.
Everyone seems to either work together or be those people's partners. They are part of an advertising agency or sales organisation and there is a competition on as to whose pitch or campaign is going to win a prize. What we get is a mixture of office affairs and rivalry and domestic moments of people with partners among whom a super-hero and super-heroine intervene - despite a brief to the artist that they are not supposed to be there.
The whole thing is much more comic strip than graphic novel, the interest much more in the comic potential of individual frames rather than any through-story. The medium has much greater impact than the message as Benjamin Kissel's artist brings it all into existence with his pen. This is a delightful, very physical performance, often matched to lively pop music, with wistful reminders of his longing for a girl called Claire who becomes one of his characters (Sophie Michaels). When not in frame his creations are stacked against the wall, lifeless, and director Gillian Foley so cleverly focuses attention that you never notice when they slip away to reappear as someone different, or they may disappear behind a single flat that at times seems to hide most of the company to do their quick changes. Bryony Rumble's design, with its two dimensional props bridges the worlds of reality and graphics.
With accents from Estuary to Brummagem the office staff have no hang-ups about background and are determinedly upwardly mobile. We get a snapshot of on-line dating for the girl who doesn't have a partner, a boy friend too common to let come to the reward visit to a health spa, the posh husband who doesn't dance, the couple splitting up after six years together, the Lothario who thinks he's irresistible - all those conflicts and confidences that make up office gossip. The more outrageous they are - the girl shaving her pubes in public, the man walking towel-less into a mixed sauna and brazening it out - you feel the more likely they are to be based on actual experience!
The whole cast, which also includes Kevin Sharpe, Timothy O'Hara, Charles Reston, Ciara Pouncett and Ewa Jaworski (a wickedly accented Superfille), play their multiple roles with gusto. They keep you engaged even if you aren't quite sure what's happening. That it sometimes feels like a disorganised university sketch show is probably the director's intention - and some students in the audience were hooting with pleasure - but this isn't thrown together. It has been carefully constructed for ephemeral comic-strip lightness, although, like any successful cartoon strip, there are deeper layers behind it. Teamwork and timing here really pay off.
At the Lion and Unicorn until 22nd May 2010
Reviewer: Howard Loxton