Director: Gavin Marshall
Writers: Gavin Marshall, Josie Lawrence and David Benson
Age is not a hindrance but an advantage. That’s the message at the heart of Linda Marlowe’s new one-woman show at Hoxton Hall, fittingly called No Fear. If you believe you can continue living to your fullest into the later years, you can. What’s more, you’re backed by the wisdom of many years; eighty-one in Marlowe’s case.
On her one-hundredth birthday, the world’s oldest circus performer dons a bubble-gum pink tuille dress and tackles a mimed high wire act. Marlowe comically breaks the façade and starts to undress. She then embarks on a whirlwind storytelling about her life. From EastEnders star to drugs runner, to rockstar, mother, and professional divorcee; she’s done it all.
Marlowe is vivacious, wry, and extremely likeable. It is easy to see why she attracts glamorous people and boundless opportunities for adventure. The jokes and natural rapport she builds with the intimate audience are superb. Her history is rich with content and humour, ideal for the making of an incredible show. Unfortunately, No Fear does not manage to mould it into one. Some of the jokes fail to land, such as the abortion skit. And while Gavin Marshall’s script is funny on the whole, it lacks plot. Anecdotes unravel without any real sense of direction or link. Some of the individual scenes, such as the pursuit of a divorce scheme or the poem about the three divorcees, are excellent: fast-pace, witty and surprising. Others, such as the EastEnders scene or the lost keys, lack clarity or intent. By the time the penultimate birth scenes are unfolding – which are slow and repetitive – we are dying for Marlowe to get on the trapeze for the finale.
Marlowe’s conviviality manages to distract from her blunders, but only for so long. There are references to the performer’s old age and therefore her struggle both to read lines (without her glasses) and to remember them. However, it is unclear how much of this is deliberate. Marlowe frequently forgets lines, and the ones she does remember she stumbles over; muddling words and talking faster than her mouth with allow. Whether some of these blunders are on purpose for comedy is beside the point because the whole effect is cringingly unpolished.
If Marlowe were not Marlowe, the play would not be worth watching. Thankfully her dynamism and colourful history make for an hour of enjoyment, even if they do not impress. The message of No Fear is inspirational and the final few moments as Marlowe masters the trapeze leave you flying high, ready to take on anything. As Marlowe says, what are we saving ourselves for anyway?
Runs until 23 October 2021