Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 29th July 2019
“a breathless surrealist caper that is sustained by its own unimpeachable internal logic”
Dressed in matching red boiler suits labelled with their names (Ex, Why and Zed), three chums work themselves up into an existential lather over a lost woodlouse, named Euan. So terrifying is their off-stage boss who entrusted them with this creature, every phone call from her (and there are many) ratchets up the tension exponentially, as they reason that she will likely demand a human sacrifice if Euan is not forthcoming. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the characters spend their dwindling time questioning their circumstances, arguing about their instructions and interrogating each other’s accounts of previous meetings with the boss, in mounting terror.
The neurotic centre of this absurdist plot is Why played by George Craig who opens the piece already in the highest imaginable state of angst, having mislaid Euan from his matchbox. Somehow, he manages to get ever more worked up over the hour, sucking the steadier Ex (George Bailey) and affably bovine Zed (Hal Darling) into a vortex of comedy mania, generating a mist of nervous sweat in the stifling Lion and Unicorn Theatre.
Although the storyline is the concoction of all three, George Bailey as writer, makes it gel through a cleverly balanced trio of characters. Ex, supplied with a whistle to denote his managerial status, creates a classic double act with Why’s childlike distress. Zed then fits neatly between them with his own brand of dim waffle. The rapidly firing dialogues create a stream of laughs, puncturing every moment of tension with ludicrous changes of tone and subject. Even as their moment of doom draws close they find time to discuss calmly subjects such as how one learns to masturbate or the primary determinants of pizza delivery times.
Since 2006, the Camden Fringe has expanded its mission of supporting performers not ready for Edinburgh to more than twenty venues and hundreds of shows. In theory this could mean exposing the faults of works not ready for public consumption, but as Euan’s well-produced programme explains, this one has been developed over several manifestations and is now nearing its final state, with a Euan 2 even promised. Director Lucy Betts has created a breathless surrealist caper that is sustained by its own unimpeachable internal logic. The need for three phones on stage seems questionable and some of Why’s ‘ideas for novels’ are of impenetrable significance but they hardly break the spell. In a world where losing a woodlouse has such dire consequences, analysis is futile.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Josh McClure
Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 31st July as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: