The First Day of My Life

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Lise McNally

at 12:01 on 19th Aug 2011

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The First Day of My Life asks us to consider how we would choose to spend our final minutes. Now, if I’m brutally honest, my final moments would certainly not be spent at this play. However, without the imminent threat of death making us stingy with our time, The First Day of My Life may be worth a visit.

For the sake of a largely talented cast, I ask that you go in a sympathetic mood. As four strangers meeting on a soon-to-be exploded tube carriage, Man, Gent, Lady and Teen are let down by a script which jumps in and out of monologues and freeze frames more often than a GCSE showcase. Although the introductory speeches were lively and funny, writer Timothy Bond seemed unable to develop his script convincingly. The emerging panic was not matched by believable dialogue, which became incongruous and stilted in more grave moments. Actors were expected to deliver a great block of wooden discourse and absurdly well considered clichés, which didn’t sit well with the situation’s emotional demands.

It is distinctly a case of a cast who outperform their script. Lewis Morris’ Man was especially impressive, maintaining a damaged but delightful character, and negotiating the artificial dialogue admirably. With an impressive physical and vocal range, he was a dark presence simmering with pent up frustration. Jack Evans as Gent also deserves praise. His initial entrance as a self satisfied suit was aptly annoying and funny, and a remarkably expressive face delivered the only powerfully understated reaction to the bomb threat, summoning tear-filled eyes and a clenched jaw. As Lady, Elka Lee-Green’s performance was quietly convincing, with only Barney Cooper (as Teen) giving into the melodrama and one-dimensionality invited by the script. Someone seems to have told him that “hand on hip” is the only appropriate stance for a teen wannabe movie star, as he seemed rigidly stuck in that position every time he was required to stand. Although his vocal performance was lively and varied, he was unable to match it with a similarly animated facial performance, and as a result his final speech fell rather flat.

The piece was mostly well blocked and well staged. The company worked well together, unpacking their changing relationships with spatial and vocal variety. Well chosen music added great poignancy to the play’s own final moments, which were handled by the cast with quiet skill. The resultant scene was genuinely moving, with a rare glimpse of naturalism. However, I was less convinced by some of the costume decisions, with a rolled up trouser leg and carefully snipped sleeves serving to convey Man’s drunken homelessness.

To the generous theatre-goer, the shortcomings of the script are easy to overlook. A few cliché’s and patches of poor dialogue are sometimes worth sitting through, especially to support what is an undeniably talented young cast. With its moving, funny but flawed plot, The First Day of My Life should perhaps not be looked at too closely, but it is still worth looking at all the same.

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Tanjil Rashid

at 12:08 on 19th Aug 2011

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A lazier review might merely state the obvious flaws to this largely monologue-based meditation on death. But most of them are quite deliberate (at least one hopes so): the inactive acting (what else are actors supposed to do when delivering a monologue?), the clunky script (of course it’s going to sound clunky; one’s thoughts, especially in the face of death, as in this play, weigh heavy) goes with the territory of interior monologues - I for one respect the attempt. The premise isn’t a bad one: 4 Londoners are stuck on the tube as it’s about to be blown up.

But the play tries to have its cake and eat it. Timothy Bond’s cliché-ridden script, which includes such lines as “this is the story of my life” and “it was just a normal day”, would be perfectly excusable on the grounds of being authentic representations of ordinary speech (or what J. L. Austin liked to call locutionary speech), and although I am loath to do so, one might even on these grounds forgive Bond’s recourse to cheap sentiments and cheap laughs – including the line “he must be a banker: twat!”. For isn’t that the sort of thing people say and think? Except it’s full of things that real people don’t say or think. Things like: “I call it the human condition”, “hate is the only constant”, etc. This, too, would be perfectly excusable if that’s what Timothy Bond decided to go for in a fit of Brechtian inspiration that threw realism to the wind in a bid to get the audience thinking. But you really can’t have both. Either Timothy Bond couldn’t decide between either style, or – what seems more likely – he failed to notice the jarring inconsistencies in his script. Even the actors seemed to be cringing as they delivered their lines.

It is not merely with speech that Timothy Bond betrays a deficient dramatic sensibility. His tin-ear is more than matched by his feeble mind. The brazen unsubtlety of naming his characters “man”, “lady”, etc. was probably the low-point. I winced when each character came on, declaring at the outset, say, “I’m teen”. A good dramatist leaves it to the audience to decide if the characters stood for a particular archetype; a bad dramatist shoves it in your face, because his craft is too weak to suggest it with any skill, sensitivity or subtlety.

And one might forgive all of these flaws if the script betrayed a single original thought. Instead the script is knee-deep in fortune-cookie pseudo-profundity about the nearness of death, the importance of seizing the moment, free will, blah blah blah. An unwelcome addition to the vast genre of the dramatic memento mori.

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