People are made of stories and stories are made of people. The people in this story are Alice and Michael. She’s 25 years old when they first meet; lightning in a bottle; always on the move. He’s a puppy-eyed sack of uncertainty, ten years her senior; caution personified. He sees her on a train and defies his every instinct by approaching her.
Six years later and Michael is in a fog of grief. He returns, at midnight, to the fateful riverbank 12 hours after his greatest loss and is confronted by the confused and waterlogged figure of Alice’s ghost.
In encouraging you all to go and see ‘This is Living’ I want to make two things as clear as possible:
First is that, at times, this play is genuinely funny. The small but intensely invested audience were moved to laugh frequently without inhibition.
The second thing: this isn’t an inherently dark play. It delves into uncomfortable topics, such as loss and grief, but never resorts to anything as unsophisticated as mere artless “darkness”.
Twin narratives of life and death run in stark parallel and we suddenly and sometimes sickeningly switch between the two. The romance plot is never without pain and the tragedy seldom without glints of levity. At their darkest points both Alice and Michael are echoes of the people they once were. Alice is a literal spectre and Michael a ghost of the man he once was, left hollowed by his grief.
Rio Cormack plays Alice as a force for life, even in death. When still she is heart-breaking. The most painful moments of the play are when she haunts the stage desperate for her daughter; lost, fading and hopeless.
Steve Cowley’s Michael is a study of a man forever trying to make sense of a world that he hopes to keep at arm’s length; brave despite himself. I dare you to sit through the play and not want to give him a big fat hug by the end of it.
Plays like this are a gift to the intimacy of the Shoebox Theatre. A stark stage, smart lighting and sound, crisp direction and direct performances give you an affecting and affirming spectacle at arm’s reach.
This is Living is Playing at the Shoebox Theatre Thursday 20th to Saturday 22nd April and at The White Bear, Bristol Monday 24th April to Friday 28th April.