DramaReviewSouth West

Birth and Death and Here and Now – Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

Devisers: Adam Blake and Adam Fuller
Performer: Adam Blake
Reviewer: Lucy Corley

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it can’t be faulted for accuracy, the title Birth and Death and Here and Now might sound a little off-putting in its vagueness. Initially, the show itself feels a little too random and unplanned, as solo performer Adam Blake gets up from his seat at the back of the audience and wanders down to the stage, humming something that might have had a tune in there somewhere. An inauspicious beginning to what initially looks like a somewhat lazy attempt to make a show out of an actor just doing whatever comes into his head.

But first impressions are soon to be proven completely wrong, as Blake requisitions a bag and coat from members of the audience and makes them into puppets with zipper mouths and button eyes. Blake has an absolute gift for comedy, giving each puppet a silly voice and mirroring their ‘faces’ perfectly with his own facial expressions, and if the audience are still confused about what we are watching, we are certainly having a great time.

Closer to stand-up than drama, this production by Open Attic Company is a new and delicious blend of comedy traditions – a dash of clowning, a hefty dose of muppet-style puppetry and vocal performance, with strong influences of Mr Bean, Michael McIntyre and Monty Python thrown in.

The show’s style is quirky, frank and often totally daft, but at its heart is a great sense of respect for its subject matter as Blake explores the big questions of life. His Grim Reaper is a particular highlight: creepy but camp, with a world-weary cynicism at the human race’s insistence that life means something, and the grouchiness of one who’s been around so long he can’t even be bothered to be evil anymore. He also makes a pretty good gameshow host when the show takes another of its unconventional turns…

Improvisation is key to this show’s appeal: Blake allows it to evolve according to the audience’s reactions, and revels in imagination’s potential to make anything happen. Audience interaction is always a risky addition to a show, as it breaks the unspoken rule that it is impolite to talk in the theatre, but Blake’s complete lack of pretention and genuine comedy gets the audience on his side – and up on its feet – to the extent that when this reviewer is asked to go onstage and represent oxygen, it feels a perfectly natural thing to do.

As the show progresses, Blake gently exposes the terror of death, astonishment at the sheer potential life offers, and anxiety about missing the point of it, that are shared by every human being. He leaves us with the present: a moment we all experience together every moment of every day, and a realisation that however lonely life might feel, every other human is experiencing the ups and downs of being alive right along with us.

Birth and Death and Here and Now is a unique and ultimately joyous experience that defies almost every theatrical convention, stripping away set and props until we are left with just an actor talking about life. On the other hand, it brilliantly accomplishes theatre’s essential goal: to represent reality.

Runs until 12 March 2016 | Image: Paul Blakemore

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