[Review:] CREEPYPASTA: THE STORY OF OSCAR, The Hen & Chickens Theatre, London.
Unfortunately, I will start this review as it will end. I liked little of this performance. It had hardly any texture, depth or tone.
I will start with set. On entering the auditorium, we are greeted with two red chairs and a black stage. This changes with every scene, but only minutely, the chairs being rearranged each time and a prop being added to the equation. Whilst minimalist set, as I have said many a time, is by no means a bad thing and can work wonders in enhancing the performer's role, in this performance, it served not as an enhancement but as a reflection of a bleak performance. Especially if a performance is a one-man show lasting an hour, set should provide an added layer of intrigue, something to keep the audience's attention — unless the performer's energy, transformativity and allure are powerful enough — which I shall cover soon.
It is also worth noting that the transitions between scenes made for hideous and slow set changes aided by a stagehand. Blackouts should be just that...we should see and hear nothing, except music. Lighting in general was basic, and, again, whilst this is not a bad thing inherently, it added a sense of stasis and a lack of momentum.
As for props, puppets are always a delight to see on stage. No matter what one does with them, they invigorate a performance, adding character and vitality, whether they have certain personalities or whether they are simply mute embodiments of power, reason, memories or other such themes. But what purpose did they serve in this play? Until toward the end of the play, I had no idea why one would have chosen to put a puppet on stage for this particular performance. It is toward the end that it is revealed that Oscar (RJ Lloyd) makes professionally-crafted puppets of high quality with detail and personality...cut to the slumped puppets on the chairs with wonky faces and limp, inelaborate bodies. This, the only thing that linked the puppets into the narrative, was fallible. The only thing that would have made this work is if a contrast between what Oscar thought his puppets looked like and what they, in fact, did look like was intended, but this should have been made clearer, if this was the case. The boxes used in the latter part of the play, however, were effective. They provided the audience with a visual cue, something onto which they could project themes and character.
I will say that I liked the manner in which Oscar's focus jumped from one memory, one anecdote, to another. It was an enchanting way to relive Oscar's memories. However, it did not do much for his character. We did not see much of his feelings — or absence of such — instead, we were told factual events of his life. This made it difficult to connect with the character, and so when Oscar's monologue turned toward darker material, it was difficult to engage with it or to be as shocked as one would have been by getting to love and feel sorry for what is thought to be an innocent, caring character who then turns out to be evil, dark and twisted.
As for the dark material, for me, it was not dark enough. To have an unhinged psychopath collecting parts of his ex-lovers is, of course, an interesting premise, but it has been done before. Being that it was difficult to connect with Oscar in the first place, this jump to the rather go-to acts of a madman just felt lifeless, where it would have otherwise been rather effective. The writing (by Matthew Greenfield and R J Lloyd) itself seemed very forced, with Oscar's monologues not following the natural rhythms of speech and overusing common phrases such as "You know?" in an attempt to make Oscar sound more realistic and idiosyncratic.
This brings me on to characterisation. Believe it or not, I do hate to be harsh, and I understand the difficulty in capturing a certain vision on stage. That said, I felt incredibly disengaged from RJ Lloyd's performance. Every sentence, nay every few words, had an accompanying gesture. Lloyd used his hands compulsively. He jumped from emotion to emotion, having no naturalistic fluidity in these developments. Even the laugh he used seemed caricaturistic, as though a quick and easy technique to suggest character. Throughout the entire performance, he remained utterly monotonal and within the constraints of a basic characterisation. There were many parts in the play as well where he directed his speech to the wall, which was odd, not to mention the faltering in delivering his lines which occurred quite regularly throughout the performance I attended.
It should be noted that other audience members seemed to be enthused by the dark turns. But I cannot help but feel that this was simply because of the presence of dark material alone. I feel that the dark twist was simply unexpected due to the superficial, reminiscent aspect of the monologue. By this, I mean that I felt it was not an engaging performance from Lloyd or a subtle and gradual manic development of Oscar that unsettled the audience but, rather, the random change from memories of TV shows to keeping a woman's fingers in a box.
Unfortunately, I just felt very withdrawn the entire way through. The performance felt very static and depthless. Its parameters were good but its operations within these were highly fallible.