Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Theatre review: Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions

This seems to be the week for plays made up of shorter playlets, although as Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions consists of five 15-minute scenes, largely monologues, it's miles away from Love and Information's frantic pace. Instead, American playwright Will Eno's stories tend to revolve around people in fairly recognisable situations, who veer away from what they're meant to be saying, to go off on an existential tangent. So the opening scene features John Kirk as the coach of a professional baseball team, holding a press conference under the glare of constantly-flashing cameras. As he tries to explain the disastrous season he's just presided over, his thoughts turn to where life has taken him, and memories of a long-lost love. There's another press conference later, as in the third play a mousy airline employee (Lucy Ellinson) tries to make an official statement in the wake of a fatal crash, but the disaster leads her into memories of her father's death and thoughts of her own mortality.

The cast are excellent and there's quite a few wryly funny moments. In the second scene, Ellinson pairs up with Propeller regular Tony Bell, alternating monologues as two people recording video messages for a dating service. His interests include "not travelling" and his plus points that he's not currently bleeding; she quite likes men who black out when you ask them a difficult question.

The format changes a bit for the last two plays: First Ellinson and Bell turn up again as a pair of photographers telling the audience to "act natural" while at the same time asking us to pose as a famous photo from the Spanish-American War. Unable to show us the original photo, they try to describe it and the unspoken profundities about life, death, hope and fear it conveys. Then all three actors appear in a surreal scene that starts with a rather good gag about the conventions of mime. It's certainly an enjoyable enough hour and a quarter, although I felt as if it pretended to a profundity it doesn't reach. There's also a sameness to the five pieces once you get past their different setups, and I don't know how much of this is down to director Erica Whyman, who's given the whole thing a dreamy tone of self-conscious quirkiness. Interesting, but a bit unsatisfying in the end I must admit.

Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions by Will Eno is booking until the 13th of October at Soho Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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