You Are Here

Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, book by Brian Hill
The Grey Area Theatre Company
Southwark Playhouse

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Wendi Peters

It is 1969, July 20, and Neil Armstrong is the first man to step out onto the moon. Suburbanite Diana sees him on television and it prompts her too to step outside, make her own giant leap away from the routine of her life on the sofa with husband Gerard, watching Bonanza.

Picking up her handbag, she takes the train into Chicago, books into a smart hotel (she’s seen it on TV). One night costs as much as her groceries for a whole week and, by the time she has shut herself in her room, she’s in shock; perhaps it has all been a leap too far. There are voices in her head that criticise, taunt and sometimes console her, the commenting chorus of Rebecca McInnis, Phil Adéle and Jordan Frazier, but help comes in the shape of hotel maid Ruby, played with warmth and humour by Frazier in contrast to McInnis’s snooty receptionist.

Bravely going out to see the sights, Diana encounters pot-smoking guitarist Daniel who had dropped out of college and then got drafted and found himself in the jungle of Vietnam, who shares a joint. Adéle seems to embody his back-story. Although Diana is soon kicking her shoes off, that doesn’t solve the situation she is in. It is Ruby who gets her a job, takes her home to a district Diana has only seen in news reports on the riots and shows her a different life.

With fifteen numbers in a show that plays about ninety minutes without interval, there is plenty of music, the numbers lively if not memorable, voices continually questioning “Why Are You Here?” as Diana finds herself in new situations, not least when, instead of the quiet corner she wanted in the hotel restaurant, she finds herself alone at a large table bang centre. That may be awkward for Diana, but playing her, Wendi Peters gives a performance that you can’t take your eyes off, capturing her joy and her desperation. Matthew Rankcom’s fast-paced production is rightly centred around her.

You Are Here is performed on a set by Libby Todd, given lunar inspiration like Diana’s own journey, that helps to draw in the wide-spaced audience. Southwark Playhouse has refigured the auditorium to have just two well-apart rows of seating, singles and bubbles shielded from each other by plastic panels. It’s COVID-safe and comfortable, though I think in my single compartment, surfaces so close to the ears may have affected acoustics, but if you aren't ready to go to live theatre yet you can also see You Are Here streamed online.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton