“tries to be about everything, and leaves you feeling nothing”
‘What the f*ck is this show about?’ exclaims one character to another during one of the many improvised scenes of Come to One. Watching the two performers splutter through the scene, unable to agree on a direction or sense of rhythm, it certainly felt like an apt question to ask.
Come to One is an entirely improvised show from Three Worlds about, well…anything, really. The performers ask the audience what’s been playing on their hearts and minds as of late, and take those as themes to improvise around. In this performance, those themes were: missing friends, corrupt politicians, exhaustion, interstellar sources of energy, and gourmet cooking. If you’re wondering how those concepts could possibly intersect, don’t worry – they don’t bother trying; instead, we are then presented with around 20-25 different, largely unconnected scenes that loosely tie into those themes, but seemingly only ever one at a time. In some instances the story in one scene is continued at a later point, but these seemed to cause more problems for the performers than the standalone scenes did.
The company, comprised of Andy St John, Carol Tagg, Michal Nowak, Izzy Glin, Tom Barnes and Zoot Lynam, seem to really struggle with the lack of structure they’ve imposed on themselves. Many other improv-focused shows will ask for plot details such as settings, characters, and motivations, and Come to One makes it clear why that is. With only vague concepts such as gourmet cooking to go off, it felt like the actors were fighting to find a sense of direction or momentum to their scenes, initially locking horns with their pre-conceived notions of where they wanted to take the conversation, then floundering to move it along as neither listens to the instincts of the other. It more often than not felt like the audience had sat in on an improv workshop that was for the benefit of the performers, rather than watching skilled improvisers show off their craft for entertainment.
The lack of command the actors had over their own show resulted in it being a tonal disaster. One plot thread about an astronaut overstepping boundaries with the humanoid AI accompanying him felt like it was supposed to be hard-hitting and thought-provoking, but this was severely undermined when another performer chose to swoop by every so often pretending to be a passing star. There was a definite uneasiness in the audience as to whether to laugh or not, and whether the laughter was with or at the actors.
It’s difficult not to feel guilty writing such a negative review because it’s clear that the performers were giving it their all, but they simply weren’t developed enough in their craft to take on the freeform nature of the show they’ve conceived. Come to One tries to be about everything, and leaves you feeling nothing.
Hot on the heels of ‘Bipolar Me’, Etcetera Theatre have put on another play focussing on mental health, this being a new piece of writing performed by new company JB Theatre.
Seemingly normal chap Simon, lashes out at a female friend of his, breaking her jaw. He ends up in a police cell and despite being discharged, refuses to leave. An unconventional priest comes in to counsel Simon, help him confront his demons and try to get to the bottom of why he is continually being confronted by ghostly figures.
A fairly basic set consisting of a table, two chairs and a couple of stools did the job, lighting was fine with occasional nice little flourishes and music was well chosen. I did feel that each music cue was sliced off, a gentle fade would have been so much easier on the ear.
The play starts with priest Cade (Robert Bingham) reading aloud a devastating diagnosis that he had received from the hospital. This scene stayed with me throughout and as he used a series of bizarre tactics to counsel Simon, you wondered just what demons he was facing himself. Simon (Ben Felton) gives a very strong performance. He is wholly invested in his character, although never specified, he is clearly dealing with PTSD and the stillness and strength of his voice somehow makes his vulnerability particularly heart-breaking. An early scene when he attempts to escape his demons through dance, is particularly effective. Cade is a fascinating character, certainly not like any priest I’ve ever seen. The actor clearly has fun with him, there are some nice moments of humour and although he is possibly slightly overplayed, that opening scene keeps coming back to validate his behaviour. Callie (Katherine Lea) completes the cast, underwritten a little in my opinion, her downstage reading of a letter she had written to Simon is beautifully performed. I did however have an issue with her ripped jeans. In fashion, sure, but whenever the actress doubled as one of the demons, despite the fact that her face was hidden, you saw the ripped jeans and just thought, ‘that’s Cally!’ A simple pair of black trousers would have helped the illusion. A nice little hinted at love story between Simon and Cally, I hope her boyfriend Dan is given the boot.
It becomes apparent that personal tragedy from Simon’s early family life is haunting him, now the earlier mentioned health issue is haunting Cade. When Simon asks Cade “Will I will ever see you again?” and Cade waits a beat and answers “It’s unlikely”, it cut through me like a knife.
This is a strong piece of writing from Robert Bingham, the closing scene with a brilliant light fade, is really impactful. Thought provoking stuff with an interesting twist, I left the theatre wondering who had been counselling whom. I hope that JB Theatre go from strength to strength, they have a play here ideal for the festival circuit.
We all have our own personal demons, as I headed for the Northern line, I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder to see if there was a cloaked figure following me.