If there’s one thing I’ve learned while reviewing Free Fringe shows, it’s that use of space is very important to one-person plays. Many of the Free Fringe venues were not designed to be used as performance spaces. Sometimes this leads to creativity and innovation. Sometimes it does not.
So that leads me to my biggest complaint about Life in a Film, which I shall get out of the way first: when you’re performing in a tiny cellar underneath a pub with barely-there acoustics and you’re often no more than four or five feet from the bulk of your audience, it’s best not to spend half your show shouting. It’s unnecessary, grating, and downright unpleasant. I came away from the show with a case of auditory overload.
This is a very passionate play, described in its blurb as ‘embarrassingly honest’. Stylistically it’s strange and disjointed, with some ‘scenes’ dragging on far too long and others ending too abruptly. This is not necessarily a criticism: though it took a while for things to ‘click’, the disjointed and rambling nature of the show reflects the disjointed and rambling nature of it’s protagonist’s life.
At its best, it has some very good material. During a late-night shopping trip, Tesco morphs into ‘limbo’; whilst reading a book in search of some meaning, ‘sentences rise up and kiss me’; in a seriously bizarre image, ‘my vagina feels like it’s about to leap forth, slither across the ground, and climb up his leg’. The musical element, though sometimes excessively loud, is generally very well integrated into the monologue and the lead is a powerful singer.
The emotional journey is at times intense. She discovers all too late that the man she’s slept with has a girlfriend and that she’s the ‘other woman’. She grapples with a lack of meaning and direction in her life in a way that will hit very close to home for students and twenty-somethings. If you fall into that demographic, chances are parts of Life in a Film will resonate with you.
However, at its worst it’s awkward and sometimes a little uncomfortable. The constant shifts and turns make it hard to remember what’s happened before and hard to tell what the point of it is. There are some truly weird touches that feel out of place; at one point, she mimes going to the bathroom; stomps around the stage pretending to be Godzilla; closes the play by pulling her shorts down to her ankles. Some of these physical touches work – others don’t.
Life in a Film has a good play at its centre, but its padded out with unnecessary and at times unpleasant baggage. The lead is a talented and charismatic performer, and, at times, a very good writer. Her loudness and exuberance is not an inherently bad thing and would be considerably less grating in a larger performance space. With some polish and better pacing this could be a good mix of mediums with a blend of emotional drama and humour; the potential is definitely there. As it is, though patchy it’s a diverse and interesting hour of entertainment and at no point is it dull.