Writer: James Turner
Director: Izzy Carney
Helium eats into the memory like acid into metal, but the overall impression is one of clumsiness and gaucherie.
The story is dark and serious, with mental health struggles at its heart. We follow the two young couples as they attempt to cope with feelings of hopelessness and despondency with a help of a certain “death dealer”. Helium aims to explore their motivations and rationales, but it doesn’t always live up to its high hopes.
All actors are quite brilliant – their bodies and voices are all soul, hurt and striving for survival or escape. They treat their lines with the utmost care, with lots of variation in pitch, tone and manner. There were, admittedly, a few lines that felt more read than spoken, and a handful of jokes that did not land – but with the cast so young, this could be expected. These acting flaws were however very minor, and the cast managed to turn the sometimes uneasy material into a moving and entertaining spectacle.
Helium’s storytelling flaws are far graver. It could be structured a tad better – long, pompous monologues disrupt the flow, and the scenes jump from one to the other rather awkwardly. Some parts of the dialogues surely looked well on paper – when spoken out loud, however, they reveal unneeded ostentation. “You are being unnecessarily obtuse!” Ben says to Chloe whilst quasi-drunkenly discussing their plans in life. “We need to talk about your unusual nocturnal behaviour” Chloe asks Judith a bit later. But the biggest flaw is perhaps the finale, which feels more like it was cut from the bottom rather than resolved.
The set, in turn, is rather lovely – almost entirely consisting of boxes with black-and-white outlines of the items they are supposed to resemble stuck onto their surface. It is clear, apparent and simple, as well as pleasing to the eye.
Helium is not without its faults – but it remains entertaining, nonetheless. It requires tweaks rather than some massive change, to create a piece of art not only enjoyable, but also truly important.
Runs until 10 July 2021