Not so happy after all – Offstage at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden

Wouldn’t life be easier if none of us were adults with responsibilities, but we all became random items from a toy box? Pedro for example lives for dressing up as dairy cow Daisy whose only worry is on which side of the meadow the grass is greener and if her friend Darren, a locomotive, passes by punctually. This infantile game gets Pedro and his colleague and friend Harley through their daily routine where crowded commuter trains, work, memories on Polaroids and telephone calls from family members are soon just annoying distractions. Life instead is happening around the lushness of a velvet red curtain in a self-constructed stage which in their heads with enough focused imagination turns into grazing grounds and train tracks. But this desperately childish escape from reality does not last forever and soon depression reaches through to their daydream playground and is poisoning every angle of the naïve idyll.

The chemistry between the two actors sparks in every scene. The movements of their shadows haunt the walls of this small space with its black-painted factory atmosphere. My personal highlight of their actions staged around a theatre in a theatre is the music from the off: Trumpets, plucked guitars and Punch and Judy melodies. A song played live on a mini lute goes along with the artificially prolonged innocence of childhood and so does the most screechy interpretation of Happy Birthday you might ever hear. Self-enforced happiness has its price.

That Offstage is dedicated to suicide prevention while kicking off the Loneliness Awareness Week gives hope because this is what Harley achieves for his friend – living with the consequences of surviving a suicide attempt and continuing after having prevented one is a story we do not hear in the 45 minute play. Will we hear how this influences friendship, clearly as important as the relieving (still-not-very-happy) end, in a sequel? I happily return to learn about that next part of Pedro and Harley’s journey to the Tristan Bates Theatre, embedded in The Actors Centre in Covent Garden. This could have been a more important part.

Offstage by the Ephemeral Ensemble

*** out of 5 stars

Playing until June 22nd at the Tristan Bates Theatre

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