Writer: Annie Siddons
Director: Justin Audibert and Nicki Hobday
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
London, for those who live there, is the absolute centre of the world. It’s full of life, art, culture and all kinds of fun you can imagine, so the idea of moving away is inconceivable. Except one day we’ll almost certainly have to when marriage, children and a desire to breathe air that isn’t 99% road fumes takes hold. But for Annie Siddons she was forced to move to Zone 5 before she’d said her proper goodbyes to her old life, before she was ready.
How (Not) to Live in Suburbia, showing at the Soho Theatre, is the eyebrow-raising, hilarious and at times painfully sad story of Siddons’ adjustment to post-divorce life in Twickenham, Home of Ruby – as it is comically titled throughout the show – as she tries to raise her children in the perfect environment while producing good work and fitting in with the local lifestyle. But Siddons is unable to fend off the “Walrus of Loneliness” who knocks at her door one evening and soon the “Seal of Shame” catches up with her too.
Siddons’ story is engagingly told in narrative, filmed dramatic reconstruction and enacted monologues performed by Nicki Hobday who plays a slightly exaggerated version of Siddons, matching clothes, manner and even hairstyle which cleverly gives physical representation to the idea of Siddons as the writer observing herself from afar.
Her tale starts as almost a purely comic one as the audience enjoys multiple anecdotes about the Londoner adjusting to life in the green belt as she tries and fails to engage with a local book group who think she’s too clever by half, going to a street party in honour of the royal baby and taking her child, for anonymity reasons surreally represented as an olive tree, to a mind-numbing toddler group, all recreated in Richard DeDomenici’s series of short films.
After being told at a dinner party that because she “works in theatre her job is to put out”, Siddons loneliness increases and the audience is conducted into a new world of Tinder dates, casual sex with inappropriate partners and a plateau at work, all of which she vividly describes as “a dyspraxic sub-acqua ballet’. After one last hurrah in central London goes horribly wrong, Siddons reveals the sting in the tale as she hits rock bottom and the tone immediately switches to something considerably more serious.
It’s a transition that Siddons manages extremely well, and while the audience has laughed along for most of the hour-long show, marvelling at the use of multi-perspectives even though they’re all her own, to realise that this runs much deeper than a series of comedy mishaps comes sharply and meaningfully into focus. It is an effective and memorable way to convey the consequences of loneliness that no one else can see.
DeDomenici’s gritty film style gives a clear sense of Siddons’ changing attitude to her surroundings, from the happy early days to the overwhelming darkness of the later experiences while Hobday, Jack Darell, Anthony Roberts and Adam Robertson give life to a variety of secondary characters.
Particularly inventive is a break-up scene with Siddons’ lover Jay set in 19th Century Russian style to music from Brief Encounter, which says so much about the nature of memory and the way we want our lives to be seen by others.
How (Not) to Live in Suburbia is a smart and honest show about losing your sense of self but managing to find a way through. Siddons’ expressive and elegant writing takes the audience into her world that hides nothing, and her message is clear: if by some unfortunate accident your friend is forced to move from the paradise that is central London, go and visit them and, most importantly, listen.
Runs until 18 February 2017 | Image: Contributed