Writer and Director: Emily Foxton
Writer and director Emily Foxton’s ambitious and darkly comic second play If This Isn’t Eden Where the Hell Am I? is a clever, complex, and engrossing exploration of the bittersweet relationship between a writer, the characters she creates, and the performers who play them.
Posh actor Alex (a fabulously manic turn by Alexander Delamain) has an A level in politics, a coke habit, and a family lineage that traces back to Henry VIII. Confident of his “main character energy” he lands a stage role in an unnamed family drama about battling brothers set in a lakeside house in a plush American suburb. The actor’s good luck is tempered by the fact he keeps hearing disembodied stage directions telling him how to behave; a kind of playwright’s vox Dei restricting his freedom to perform. “If the stage directions told you to jump off a cliff, would you?” he is asked at one point. The answer is yes, an actor has no choice.
Working-class co-star Oscar (Oscar Dobbins, moody and brooding) has seen players come and go from the rehearsal room and is none too taken with the new “in-bred Tory” he is asked to play against. The drama’s third performer, George’s (George Ganchev, who oozes charisma) main concerns are popping acid and mulling over “who’s sexier, vampires or pirates?”. No wonder director Lauren (Annie Butler), who would rather be working on a clown show about queer joy, feels the need to kick the cast into shape. “You feel like you’re actors playing actors” she roars, which of course in this most metatheatrical of set-ups, they are.
Foxton injects a Pinteresque sense of dystopian menace and disconnection from the external world in the play’s early angst-ridden scenes of rehearsal room farce. But then she takes the piece off in a different direction entirely. The play’s putative author (Alberta Dale) appears, demanding her characters, now chillingly self-aware of their own inability to influence unfolding events, approve of her authorial choices. Her show’s been through 18 rewrites already, but its final form remains tantalisingly out of reach, visible only “through a glass darkly”. Further script changes may be coming. What is at stake for the characters, and by implication the actors who inhabit them, is the threat of being written out of the only existence they have. Words can be poison. Anticipate death at pen-point.
If This Isn’t Eden Where the Hell Am I? meditates on how a writer can ever truly know the characters she creates, and on the difficulties involved in letting one’s creations go. It also reflects on the role of the audience in the art of writing; the house lights repeatedly come up in a kind of fourth-wall-breaking time loop. The play is a trifle too self-aware at times, but although funny it never winks at us in mockery; its intentions are far too serious for that.
Emily Foxton is most definitely a writer to watch. The impeccable cast are all, like Foxton, Italia Conti graduates and mostly play parts written specifically for them. The team have worked for 18 months on this piece, and it shows.
Runs until 29 July 2023