I really want to be able to tell you that this piece of fringe theatre in the popular Chiswick venue is good and worth seeing. But it wasn’t and isn’t. Instead I found it to be a painful endurance test and a reflection that even though fringe theatre and small production companies across the country are delivering exciting innovative projects, there are still corners where overwrought dramatics continue.
Oh, the Humanity, written by Will Eno, is a series of monologues from eight supposedly ordinary people, which exposes their inadequacies and insecurities in a relatable way.
Well, considering this play is supposed to be a study, an investigation, into what makes us human, the fact that I couldn’t relate to a single character, a single monologue , really hampered the emotional reach of this production. Each character was either a cliché, impossible to relate to or completely unbelievable.
We had a sports team manager trying to fight off the brickbats for his team’s underperformance, a (quite sinister) couple recording their thoughts for a video for a dating website, a really quite bizarre photographer and his assistant who were trying to replicate a photograph from the Spanish-American war at the end of the 19th century, and a couple in a car on their way to either a funeral or christening. (They genuinely couldn’t remember to which they were going to. Seriously.)
And in what has to be in the most eye-wateringly bad misjudgement, one of the characters was a wholly incompetent PR spokesperson for an airline company following a massive plane crash where there had been no survivors. I mean, Jesus….
The silence from the audience during this last monologue spoke volumes. And it was clear that there was uncertainty how to pitch this piece, never sure whether to play it for laughs (“we hope they enjoyed the inflight movie. The film was Finnish…”) or for the spokesperson to have enough self-awareness to know she was completely out of her depth. Either way, given recent events, this piece was just painful.
There was a point where, completely overwhelmed with anxious verbosity, the PR lady got tangled up wondering whether this plane burst into flames or whether the plane silently fell from the sky.
I mean, unbelievable. All I had in my mind was just how awful both MH17 and MH370 must have been, the passengers on both dying in either of these two ways, and it just wasn’t funny. But more importantly, the character was simply unbelievable.
PR mistakes are believable, yes, but you wouldn’t send a spokesperson out in front of the cameras who started saying she could relate as her father died recently, peacefully in his chair, though she has been dealing with this by “countless nights under the weight of fatherly figures.”
Though this monologue was awkward, the writing in the others was not great.
The sports manager piece had overwrought lines such as “I was standing in the unforgiveable light of the grocery store” and a section where, emotionally beaten, he demanded when his life would actually begin and all these lessons he had to learn were over.
That kind of almost immature writing was also in the couple on the dating website, where one of them broke into a desperate piece about running over hills until she was covered with sweat and feeling the rain pouring over her just to feel alive. I felt like throwing my head into my hands. Theatre really doesn’t need to be so desperately overly dramatic.
And each of the monologues was so long, about 15 minutes each. If only a third of that time had been slashed, or more emotional variety injected into them as they were all one-note, remaining, angst-ridden, bizarre or awkward throughout.
Or maybe the monologues should’ve been broken up so they didn’t run as single pieces without interruption.
The actors, credit to them, battled on and worked what they could from monologues which gave them very little. And the set design from Andy Edwards, who set up the compact space as a photography studio, with each monologue taking place in front of the camera, was nicely done.
But overall, this play was just painful – mentally and physically. For compounding the pretentiousness of the production was the seating.
I got stuck on an unsupported bench right at the back of the theatre. I was in such discomfort for the whole 90 minutes. Unallocated seating is the bane of my life visiting the theatre but to only offer visitors seating that is so painful it makes the Globe seem like the Royal Opera House really is just unacceptable.
Fringe theatre is always a risk, I know that. And I want to encourage it after all, it’s in everyone’s interests for theatre across the country to flourish. And End of Moving Walkway, who produced this production, has very laudable aims.
End of Moving Walkway believes that the fringe can and should be as professional as the large-scale venues, and commits itself to always paying its actors. I wish them luck in their ventures but this was production was not a winner in any way. Patrons would be better off spending their time and their money in the bar downstairs. They have a very nice outside area.
Tabard Theatre, Chiswick to September 20, 2014
Production images © George Linfield