King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 25th October 2018
“the language is frequently astoundingly beautiful and provocative and could be listened to for weeks on end”
Canoe is a show that welcomes you in to its story and hugs you farewell at its close. That’s not a metaphor – writer and performer Matthew Roberts literally greets and bids goodbye to every audience member personally as they enter and leave the theatre. Moments like this encapsulate the heart of pure gold that the show carries; albeit one that occasionally beats a little too frantically.
The plot centres around Tom and David, a couple who have lost two of their adopted children in an accident and are struggling to process their grief. Canoe is an expansive and nuanced introspective into coping with loss, the legacies we leave behind, and how people can live on through their stories, incorporating a myriad of cultural and social touchstones to provide immense texture – social media, religious homophobia, Theresa May, and Charlotte’s Web are to name but a few. Roberts’ script is a textual hotbed of intersecting concepts and insights, told through spoken word and rhyme that is verbally meteoric; the language is frequently astoundingly beautiful and provocative and could be listened to for weeks on end.
However, the content beneath the words is at times lost by a script that has been adapted from a four-person show to a one-person show with the aid of director and dramaturg Struan Leslie. As Roberts bounds between characters and plot threads and anecdotes, Canoe’s strain to maintain the multiple moving parts an additional three actors on stage would allow shows, with the ways in which different story strands would inform and complement each other often feeling lost. Roberts gives a blazing performance from a script that feels it’s demanding too much – the huge leaps between characters, emotional states, and accents that are given are impressive, but it came across as though it was one man trying to sing every note in a harmony at once, where there should have been a choir; it didn’t allow for the show’s many facets to truly resonate with each other.
Canoe feels like a fervent puppy dog – desperate to please and endearing, but pouring bounds of energy into so much at once that it’s overwhelming. With a greater sense of narrative clarity, Canoe stands to make some serious waves.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
King’s Head Theatre until 26th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: