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Heads or Tails – Living Record Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Skye Hallam

The only difference between life and death is time, Sebastian Faulks wrote in Birdsong, a premise that Skye Hallam’s new show Heads or Tails for the Living Records Festival expands on, by bringing Steph back from the dead for just 40-minutes to offer her insight into the afterlife. Staged as a single monologue, this brief tale has a wistful and bittersweet quality that suggests we should pay more attention to our lives while we still have them.

Steph has been in the afterlife for three years having died unexpectedly on 19 August 2018. She knows God whom she affectionately names Helen, has met heroes from Michael Jackson to Alan Rickman and Barry Chuckle, and has been released from all the human anxieties associated with how we look and feel. But as Steph promotes the positives of heaven, memories of life resurface.

Hallam’s very intimate story is staged in the acknowledged Jermyn Street Theatre with a ticking clock driver that gives her just 40-minutes back on earth to share her knowledge with us. Divided into five chapters, there is an overall tone of calm and quiet as Hallam delivers even the darker material with a relaxed ease that is just above a whisper. It gives Heads or Tails a personal quality, as though Steph is here just for you, reinforced by Luke Dale’s close-shot camerawork.

There is plenty of humour in the script, enhanced by asides to a second camera whenever Steph makes a sarcastic quip or knowing remark that vary the pace while different chapters move around the space slightly as Hallam sits or lays down to create a different perspective for the viewer. Its aim is to build trust with the audience, as Steph’s relaxed and open approach draws us into her story and encourages us to take her advice.

The gentle way in which her biography emerges is skilfully woven through the monologue and as content as the character is with the experience of heaven, there are moments of regret and disappointment that vary the tone. That Steph, who died aged 25, was never able to experience pregnancy seems to catch her in contemplation of all the life she missed, as does the notion that the living forget their loved ones fairly quickly while she sits in heaven besieged by memories and waiting for family and friends to ‘pass over’.

But there are more positive messages in Heads or Tails as well, noting the relief of no longer feeling judged and being able to step off the ‘hormonal rollercoaster’ where the pressure to be attractive, liked and on the right side felt exhausting. She subtly recommends that we all need to stop fixating on what others think of us while accepting our need for shape and purpose from external support systems like faith and religion.

One of the most poignant entries into the Living Record Festival, Heads or Tails takes a relatively simple but universal context – our fear of loneliness and death – and builds a powerful short drama. Its brilliance lies in how carefully Hallam’s writing and genial performance build a rapport with the viewer, makes these intimidating topics palatable and welcoming. Thoughts of this show will linger and hopefully Hallam’s message of courage and selfcare will strike a chord.

Runs here until 22 February 2021

The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to 22 February 2021

 

The Reviews Hub Score

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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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