In Limbo – Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Writers: SevenArc Productions 

Director: Georgie Staight 

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

It’s always something of a surprise to see Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life hover near the top of any list of all-time great Christmas movies. While the closing scenes of James Stewart running through the streets of Bedford Falls towards his family is indeed a heartening one, for the most part the film is of a man who is driven to the brink of suicide, and a supernatural being’s quest to try to get him to change his mind.

That masterpiece comes to mind when watching In Limbo, a devised piece by SevenArc production’s four-strong cast in which Shaun Amos’s James is forced to relive scenes from his life after attempting suicide. Like Capra’s film it is mostly set at Christmas, Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone and sundry covers of Wham!’s Last Christmas perpetually in the air.

Maybe it’s the devised nature of the piece, but the resulting piece is a bit of a mess. Apart from Amos, who effectively conveys both the confusion of the James stranded in limbo and the younger form who travels from nerdy boyfriend to various levels of clinical depression, all the characters seem underwritten. Neither Beatrice Hyde as James’s sister Sarah, nor Catherine Boyle as his girlfriend Beth, seem rounded enough as characters, leaving neither actor with enough to fully engage. At least Anna MacArthur’s Isla, who is on hand in limbo to guide James to wherever he goes next, has the excuse of being a supernatural entity to explain why her dialogue never feels genuine.

While the writing may fall short, Sam Glossop’s sound design helps compensate, particularly when sounds from the real world bleed into James’s existence in limbo.

Even so, Amos’s final decision – whether to return to the real world, or to move on to whatever lies next – seems both the most important part of this piece, and also the least explored. It feels as if the glimpses of his past life that Isla faces James to live through are not playing into that decision at all, rendering his ultimate choice an end to the play, rather than the climax it needs.

True, having Isla work to convince James to return to the land of the living may have been a little too Capraesque, echoing too closely the role Clarence plays for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. But if you’re going to take inspiration from the best, better a stronger plot than just a Christmas theme.

Runs until 3 August 2019 | Image: Stills by Connor

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