What appears at first as two latecomers arriving, taking seats at the front row as the house lights dim is the first of many sly twists in this gently metaphysical comedy from writer/director Maggie Marie Casto. Oddly, the young couple (Bailey & Clay) appear from the side of the stage not accessible by the public, she is carrying a carton of popcorn, both are sporting 3D glasses. They quickly agree to start the show, moving their chairs to face the audience, sharing an uncomfortable proximity to one another as they wait for a film to start. They commence a ferociously awkward conversation, struggling to speak around their mutual nervousness and anxiety. It is the classic material of an excruciating first date, yet even within the realm of such experience, there are deeper abnormalities. Clay seems incapable of grasping even the most minor of social cues, speaking of a sheltered childhood residing in a basement. It is clear Bailey is more than commonly intrigued by the darker and more mysterious aspects of her new friend (she does, after all, have an inordinate attachment to the Twilight series of books with all their shadowy romance). Casto offers an auspicious opening scene, teasing the curiosity, and seductively withholding information.

Scene 2 abruptly shifts to the interior of a cafe where a manic young man dressed in corporate gear frantically searches for an absent barista, pressed for time to fulfil an order for an insistent client. He is at a moment of pique when he encounters fellow patron Lorelai, the pair caustically engaging in the otherwise empty premises. It takes a moment to realise that it is indeed Clay again, in quite a reversal to how the audience first encountered him. The gawky but sweet energy has been replaced by an almost hostile, tense unpleasantness. Lorelai settles him, but there swirls around them, nevertheless, a restless verve. Trains rumble from above, the cafe is located beneath a metro stop. There is the whiff of the transitory about the place, a temporal nexus (there is a good reason that Dali’s melting clock is prominently displayed onstage, one of many items on the cafe’s shelves, objects from across all eras). Continually, the characters refer to this surrounding as the titular ‘Weird Place’. A strange sort of waiting room or way station. 

It is near the end of this sequence that the material takes a great conceptual leap. For the purposes of this review, a few details need to be revealed, which some may find divulge too much, so spoiler alerts! Clay is more than a mere corporate lackey, he is in fact a functionary for the Grim Reaper itself. He is engaged in end-of-life contracts & final proceedings, his call the scream of sirens and last breaths. There is a reason Lorelai and Bailey have come into his orbit. Both, for varying reasons, are death-adjacent. In Bailey’s case, personal circumstances have propelled her into unhealthily (and prematurely) courting death, Clay the perfect representative. Clay has violated all professional principles in becoming involved with Bailey, contradicting his purpose. His desire to bend towards life & vitality, to lean towards felicitous companionship, is a defiance. There is a real poignant kick in watching him blunder through his attempts at simple pleasures such as miniature golf and karaoke, desiring so desperately to fit in with the ordinary. Quite beyond the particularities of this specific circumstance, Bailey & Clay could be any two typical people trying to negotiate the complications of a relationship, battles of personalities and behaviour, and a system of disappointments and delights.

As Clay, Lawrence Harp spasms winningly between ecstasy and misery, extracting tremendous comic brio out of his predicament (and more than a little melancholy that he will perpetually fail in his ability to be a reliable partner). Maddy Biggs as Bailey brings a honeyed and tremulous spirit, slightly lost, punishing herself for perceived misdeeds, perhaps willingly damning herself. Isabelle Woolley’s Lorelai harbours no illusions, the bluntest-speaking person on stage, revealing indelicate truths to her fellow stage mates in a bid to redress the balance. 

Structurally, the interval is problematic. This is a piece that barrels along on a series of sharp, quickly-paced sequences, full of allusive dialogue and alluring slow-drip revelation that a break adversely interrupts. When the proceedings resume, there is a tendency in the short second act to over-explain and draw out scenes, to reiterate points already so finely delineated in performance. As the concept gradually takes over the material, the actors sometimes flounder to keep the more human-scale dimensions of their characters grounded, but for a preponderance of the running time, the sure-footed cast and the quirky, amiable script provide many a diverting, thoughtful moment.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Adaptation Almeida Cabaret Camden Fringe Cast Announcement Christmas Comedy Dance Drag Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Immersive Interviews Jukebox Musical LGBTQIA+ Lyric Hammersmith Manchester Musical New Musical News New Wimbledon Theatre North West Off West End Park Theatre Play Review Revival Richmond Theatre Round Up Royal Court Theatre Shakespeare Show Announcement Show Recommendations Soho Theatre Southwark Playhouse Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

    The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
    Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
    Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, High Tide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE
    Drum roll please…(Cue a literal drum rolling across the stage.) The Lyric pantomime is one of traditions with the return of many well-loved jokes and skits. Costumes and sets are all made at the Lyric itself by Good Teeth, with set pieces being reused year on year. This year Cinderella gets the Hammersmith makeover, with some success. The costuming is fun and vibrant, with the ugly stepsisters’ equine pyjamas and hoop-skirted ball gowns giving all the wrong kinds of extra you need for those characters. Cinderella’s on stage dress transformation is magical and really well-timed. The Dame, Lady Jelly-Bottom’s, outfits … More CINDERELLA – REVIEW – LYRIC HAMMERSMITH
    Amy catches up with Linus Karp ahead of his performance of Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story, at London’s Clapham Grand. Linus and Joseph of Awkward Productions are also the masterminds behind the new show Gwyneth Goes Skiing. Hello Your Majesty/ Candle Entrepreneur, how are you feeling coming back from a hugely successful fringe and triumphant tour across your kingdom, ahead of performing in front of 700 of your loyal subjects, and before (the list never ends!) opening a brand new show, which has recently gone viral? Exhausted, exhilarated and alive. We’ve had the most ridiculous year – I feel … More INTERVIEW – LINUS KARP – DIANA: THE UNTOLD AND UNTRUE STORY

Leave a Reply