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I ain't got nothing to say

The young, multi-talented Antler theatre company strike a chord in their collectively-devised play about the crisis of identity.

Review by Corinna Lotz

If I were me

In chess there is the predicament of the isolated pawn. In real life there is that of an isolated person. In If I Were Me, there is Phillip.

He is struggling with who he is. In a hilarious opening scene, shrinking violet Phillip (a delightfully naive Nasi Voutsas) struggles with the simplest of things. He has trouble recording an outgoing message on his mobile phone, uncertain of what kind of persona he seeks to project. He can hardly keep his potted plant alive, despite lovingly spraying it with water.

Matters are made worse by aggressive colleagues Trevor (Daniel Foxsmith) and Hannah (Daniela Pasquini), who strut around, asserting their superior marketing abilities. Trevor, who is always accompanied by a mysterious wheelie suitcase, says the real trick is to develop a “Brand You”, to assert the “will to distinctify”. Everything, says Trevor, begins with “choices” and of course he has been making the right ones from the very start.

Collectively devised by theatre company Antler, this is a fast-moving satire on the ideology of the “supreme self”, which reduces every individual into a target for marketing gurus to exploit.

The neurotic, bottled-up Hannah morphs into another colleague, the Italian Paola, who smirkingly puts down Phillip as he attempts to create a marketing message for a new drink, Mug Shot. In one of many comic moments that toy with accents as a clue to identity, Pasquini’s quickfire Italian plays off Phillip’s failure to find words.

We feel his pain as he shrinks back from Trevor’s patronising super-ego and humiliation by Hannah, after he innocently asks her out to the movies. The only one to take pity on him is Person (a touching Merce Ribot), who gathers up Phillip’ clothes after Hannah humiliates him. It turns out that Person is Phillip’s very own doppelganger, confronting him with aspects of his own self that he can’t cope with.

Voutsas’ pulls off an extraordinary transformation as he changes from worm to butterfly in an amazing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, It seems his true self – and Person’s - can only emerge by giving his all to music.

The staging is full of surreal moments, as Trevor and Hannah show off, swatting tennis balls. The hollow nature of their arrogance towards Phillip becomes evident.

Person, wearing a copycat version of Phillip’s baggy grey suit, performs a solo dance which has a strangely liberating quality. It seems that she – who is a true nobody –  can find herself, once again, in the music.  

Rapid fire choreography, Springsteen’s lyrics, the balls ricocheting around the stage, plus symbolic props including cardboard cutouts all provide a playful surreal quality that relieves a mightily painful story.

The enthusiastic young audience at Soho theatre clearly related to the issue of how to realise one’s own nature. This devised production suggests that the isolated pawn needs to collaborate with others if it is to survive.

24 March 2016

If I Were Me devised by ANTLER Theatre and directed by Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart at Soho Theatre.
Last performance Saturday 26 March

Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen

I get up in the evening
and I ain't got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothing but tired
Man I'm just tired and bored with myself...

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