Another Eavesdropping – Jack Studio Theatre, London

Reviewer: Thom Punton

Concept and Director: John Patterson

The premise of Another Eavesdropping is simple. Conversations and interactions overheard in the real world by members of the cast are acted out and compiled into a 90-minute piece of theatre. Whilst there’s no doubt that the drama of everyday life contains plenty of material upon which to build great theatre, the question remains: is it enough on its own? And the answer, based on this piece, is unfortunately: no, not quite.

The eavesdroppings are divided into separate vignettes, each with their own distinct characters and subject matter. Sometimes they consist of just a few lines, sometimes we see a story developing as the characters reveal more about their lives. There’s a real range of life here, from mothers looking after their kids in the park to young men around a campfire discussing their drug-taking habits. Often the stories that emerge have emotional depth and humour; the main problem is the piece struggles to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Though there are strong messages here about how people interact with one another, their self-awareness or lack thereof, class differences and differences of opinion, there’s no development as such of the raw material and often the way it is handled takes it further away from its inherent meaning. As an example, a man in a pharmacy is complaining about his prescription in an interminably detailed way whilst a poor pharmacist is trying her best to be patient. There’s an absurdity to his cyclical argument and in some ways it’s interesting to witness the performance of this real-life scene in its verbatim detail, but something is lost in the “theatricalisation” of it. Without the nuance of the real-life people, we lose some of the heart and the pathos.

There are times when more naturalistic acting highlights the subtleties in the text, and it’s actually the more mundane scenes that have the most dramatic spark. A naïvely joyful lunchtime conversation between two colleagues about cheese – one of whom proudly recounts how he once ate a whole block of gouda – is unexpectedly moving, by virtue of its subtext: the fact that happiness can be found in the small things. Then, two strangers tentatively making small talk about iPad models has all the potential chemistry of a romantic comedy.

It would’ve been interesting to see more eavesdroppings like these where the hidden depths and stories from the people’s lives are only glimpsed and hinted at. Unfortunately, however, most of the scenes are played for laughs and are often too rounded, as if they are being fitted to the mould of pre-written comedy sketches. There are also times when it feels slightly uncomfortable that we are being invited to laugh at the way certain people are acting: self-involved parents, two exaggeratedly posh women discussing homeowning, two girls at a nail salon who are not sure if “intellectual” is a word. By virtue of the way they are acted, it can feel at times like they are being mocked rather than simply observed.

It’s certainly a thought-provoking concept, and it’s fascinating to study the way people actually talk. Being out in the real world afterwards feels slightly unnatural and the conversations of strangers jump out in a new light. It also makes you think about who else might be listening…

Runs until 1 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Thought-provoking but misguided

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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