Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“It becomes too clever and self-aware and we disengage”
Above Edinburgh on the Salibury Crags, Declan, a talented, working class young artist pulls a body back as it tries to jump. This body belongs to Libby, a middle-aged, middle class fading playwright who is drunkenly considering the end. So two worlds meet. As Declan talks about the realities of his life, an abusive step-father, his love for his little sister, Libby begins to write for the first time in far too long. She needs his story, she needs his words, but at that point, the play asks, does telling someone’s story become exploiting it?
Lorn Macdonald as Declan is the heart and energy of the piece. He comes to life, quick and funny, surprising and vulnerable. His story is the one we are interested in hearing, and Macdonald is simply fire on stage. I cannot fault his performance. Unfortunately Neve McIntosh’s Libby feels comparatively unreal. This is not her fault, but an impossibility within the way the character is written. She is unlikeable throughout. Her suicide attempt, which opens the story, is so lightly commented upon in the rest of the play that it seems completely unbelievable and rather half-hearted, trivialising suicide, and contributing to a version of Libby that is self-absorbed and ingenuine. She is used as a device by the playwright (Kieran Hurley) to make comments about the world of theatre, meaning she struggles to emerge. He gives her an extended monologue about the state of playwriting, about theatres and audiences, that is so self-aware it makes us self-aware. That isn’t a character speaking, and it removes us from the world of the play with immediate effect. Even her trajectory isn’t believable. She jumps from suicidal to mentor to lover to exploiter with no apparent journeys in between.
Mouthpiece is interspersed by Libby directly addressing the audience, telling us what makes a good play, walking us through the necessary ingredients as they are created onstage, foreshadowing the way the narrative must inevitably go. Sometimes this works really well. But the plot gets lost in this, and the end in particular suffers as a result. It stops being about the characters, about their story. It becomes too clever and self-aware and we disengage.
The story that is at the heart of ‘Mouthpiece’ is a fascinating one of an unlikely relationship, of exploitation, class and culture, but it gets lost in a weary exercise of meta-theatricality, in an attempt to comment on playwriting, when the story is powerful enough to make this comment on its own. Let the story speak, and we will be powerless not to listen.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Roberto Ricciuti
Soho Theatre until 4th May
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: