[Review:] RIP EVERYONE, EVENTUALLY, The Bread and Roses Theatre, London.
RIP Everyone, Eventually is Wingding Theatre’s first-ever performance…and it shows. They have a lot to learn. From talking in the wings as the audience enter to destroying the illusion of their set with a huge promotional projection [of the same information and QR code that the audience have been bombarded with thrice before entering the space], professionalism is…lacking.
As for the dramatic text itself, writer Laura Thomas has clearly borrowed a lot of the material we are presented, either consciously or subconsciously, with Catherine Tate’s character, Joanie Taylor being an obvious influence. From “You’ll never guess who’s died!” jokes and general two-facedness to stomping on the floor and crying “What a load of shit!”, the material is strikingly reflective of Tate’s work. Even the name of the main character, Janey (Amber Goddard), is close to Joanie. Perhaps I am mistaken and all of this is purely coincidental, which, of course, I am open to accept; but if I am mistaken, the lack of originality and coherent identity still remains an issue.
Borrowing material like this is not inherently an issue. It is common for new theatremakers and is not a problem if they know how to incorporate the material into their work and make it their own; otherwise, it can lead to a lack of individuality and cohesive character, as is the case for this performance. Amongst the expletives and cynical outbursts, the unique identity of this grandmother is incredibly difficult to decipher, nay impossible. Thomas presents us not with a coherent and distinctive character but simply an elderly lady who puts her middle finger up to stereotype and cliché, indulges in life’s fine things and lets loose…an interesting premise but bland and superficial if that is quite literally all we get for an hour. The best example I have of how confused Janey’s identity is arises when we consider the following phrase used both within the dramatic text itself and in all descriptions of the show, some of which also detail Janey as a classy and put-together septuagenarian: “Put your slippers on, keep your knickers on.” This recurrent sense of sexual reservedness and propriety coming from a lady who has just deep-throated an eclair whilst dancing sexily to romantic music — during a sequence that is far too long, I might add, wringing dry a singular joke for well over two minutes.
Janey’s relationship with the audience is equally questionable. She is offensive towards us when we first meet her, accusing us of not helping her with her shopping, jeering at us as she passes, but then she takes a more distanced and conversational approach. We are treated either as fellow gossips or as distanced, passive listeners. It is easy because of this to feel confused as to what our function is as audience members. Janey’s relationship with the audience should be readdressed for these reasons. Additionally, her constant explications to one audience member in particular quickly become much too repetitious.
In terms of Goddard’s performance capabilities, I would like to see a good degree more transformativity and conviction. Energy is faultless, however, and credibility is good, overall. I would just advise a lot more extremification and caricaturisation; I am not seeing old lady beyond the wig and costume. A particular issue I observed throughout this performance is that with every single joke Goddard delivers, she turns her head to the right, away from the audience and towards the back of the stage. This allows for a significant roboticisation of her movements that ought to be avoided. Slip-ups are constant, especially in the delivery of the longer, fast jokes — of which there are so many that their quirky effect quickly wears off. What should be simple, promptly delivered and pleasing asides, purely pleasurable witty jokes, come to demand far too much concentration and focus from the audience on a regular basis. In fact, there is a notable issue with Goddard’s pacing throughout in general. It remains utterly unstable, prompting these slip-ups in her delivery. Goddard simply storms through the text in places and delivers her lines far too slowly in others. Mostly, though, any lack of momentum and spirit remains in the monotony of the text.
The content remains heavily focused on gossiping, which is comedic and engaging the first, and perhaps the third, time but quickly wears off through repetition. Whilst this gossiping teaches us a great deal about Janey’s opinions on others, her judgemental and multifaceted nature, this can only provide us with a superficial reading. Once or twice would be enough to communicate this aspect of her; beyond this, variation in technique is needed to better demonstrate her identity in full. The morning routine sequence, as I shall refer to it, is one such sequence that could really convey to us what makes Janey so unique and worth observing. Unfortunately, it does not. Mundane activities like showering, newspaper-reading and then watching the television are not especially enticing. I should also note the bizarre start of this sequence where incredibly specific times are given to us, something like 9:42 AM, followed by on-the-hour or half-hour descriptions. This first communicates to us her specific and eccentric, perhaps OCD, nature, and then…nothing. The decision to do this is bizarre to me.
Ironically, Bingo and ITV’s The Chase, with emphasis on the former, feature too minutely in this performance, and any descriptions of her love for these that we do receive are applicable to any conventional member of the imagined older generation. These items must be far better particularised within this text. More scenes like the quiz scene, wherein Janey imagines herself as a contestant on this aforementioned television programme, would benefit this text, but this scene, much like others, comprises only needless jokes that add nothing to our sense of character or narrative. I would advise that the creatives start with scenes like this as well as the morning routine sequence to reimagine the text, developing a much more profound sense of identity for Janey, tailoring the text not merely just to make the audience laugh, which is something it clearly seeks to do, but to convey Janey’s quirky character, which will naturally be funny in itself. Aspects like the needless gossiping or ‘humorous’ moments like when Goddard leaves the stage for a ‘costume change’ but then re-enters wearing the exact same thing, consume far too much valuable time which should, instead, be used to convey her character.
Back to the quiz scene. I would also recommend that when Bradley Walsh’s face is replaced with Goddard’s [which is hilarious to include] that we see Goddard’s face with Janey’s wig on. Otherwise, it is easy to read this as Goddard the comedic actress playing a role, as opposed to Janey herself. In fact, Goddard could benefit from some ageing makeup, in general – not necessarily anything too emphatic, just a subtle distinction, if anything.
On to set design (by Zoe Beeny). I have mentioned my dissatisfaction with projections, and I do see the projections throughout as somewhat distracting and unnecessary. They certainly add a youthful quality to the performance – I think of the simple repeated animations of candy, for example – but they have little bearing on theme and context beyond this. Where they are used in the camping scene is most facilitative, however. In terms of set design, I have no negative criticisms whatsoever. Perfectly facilitative and aesthetically coherent and attractive. I would just recommend that props be better incorporated into the performance, only used when absolutely necessary and not for fleeting ‘comedic’ effect – the eclairs or the spray bottle for the shower scene, for instance.
Finally, I should note the metatheatricality here that we see often in this performance. I pose the following questions: are you wanting to communicate deliberately to an audience that this is a play including a twenty-something-year-old dressed as a grandmother? Is this tongue-in-cheek self-referentiality the angle of comedy? Or is the angle of comedy rooted in our suspension of disbelief, our belief that this is, indeed, a real grandmother, eccentric and fascinating to observe? It cannot be both, and both should have their clear distinctions in definition, style and use of dramatic techniques. This is why I find the shower scene problematic. What is communicated to the audience is completely confused in this performance, along with the audience’s understanding of their function: part of the action or silent observers.
Overall, this dramatic text is in need of drastic editing. Both concept and execution must be intensely reworked. Goddard has great stage presence and vitality, but a lack of direction, character profile and intent compromises her energy and credibility. Goddard seems completely unsure of her role. This text needs to be drastically rethought.
“A highly disappointing, unoriginal and ill-conceived performance.”