Writer: Rosie Wilby
Director: Colin Watkeys
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Of all the things Gwyneth Paltrow has given the world – her British accent in Emma, her double life in Sliding Doors and even her own severed head in Seven – it is the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’, used to describe her breakup from husband Chris Martin, that may well be her greatest cultural contribution. So much so that comedian Rosie Wilby has used it as the title of her new stand-up show as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love.
This cleverly structured 50-minute show considers what it’s like to be dumped and uses Wilby’s own experience of a relationship ending in 2011. Using what are presumably real emails from ‘Sarah’, Wilby incorporates the electronic aftermath with a Jackanory-style romantic retelling of how it all began, in a seamless leap back and forwards in time.
In between, Wilby talks around the issues including questioning her former lover’s choice of Times New Roman as the font for the breakup emails rather than the much warmer Arial, and gently mocking the simplicity of our lives back in 2011 when checking email felt like a ritual rather than having them constantly with you as we do now, meaning, as Wilby explains, you weren’t dumped immediately. There’s also a lovely side-swipe at Facebook for stealing the meaning of the word ‘friend’.
This is not the kind of stand-up show that gives a constant stream of witty one-liners and Wilby carefully avoids any hint ofa personalattack on her ex-partner. Instead, she focuses on creating a context for the audience to understand the relationship they had and what it meantwhile joking about the ridiculousness of our behaviour and thought-processes when we’re ‘in love’.
This notion of contrast between the ideal lover and ideal partner recurs as Wilby discusses ‘the cutesy trappings of love’ where we create in-jokes and eagerly anticipate every meeting, with the mundanities of being with a partner day-to-day arguing over who has to take out the bin, and for Wilby trying to fathom after three years together why her partner hadn’t admitted the relationship to her parents.
Wilby also uses a Dickensian ghost device that frames the show, encouraging listeners to beware nostalgia (Ghost of Love Past), and actively fight for honest, open and respectful relationships (Ghost of Love Yet to Come). Although this delivers the show’s core message and adds an element of silliness, it is the least effective part of the evening, seemingly half-heartedly incorporated to relate to The Festival of Love.
Wilby’s openness is charming and intimate as though you’re old friends catching up over coffee, and she spends time milling around the audience at the start, chatting to people and helping them to find seats – an informality that sets the tone for rest of the performance. And although much of the show is read, either from emails or the storybook, it feels spontaneous and fresh in delivery.
Conscious Uncoupling is a very honest show that manages to celebrate the happy years of a relationship while being mystified by that process of disentanglement. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin may make it sounds so simple but,clearly, the phrase and the relationship are still on Wilby’s mind more than five years later.
Runs until16 July (but showing at the Camden Fringe 17-21 August) | Image: Contributed