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If That's All There Is?
Published on Friday, 26 August 2011

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
23-27, 29 Aug, 3:00pm-4:10pm
Reviewed by Sarah Hill

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Marriage is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. At least, that’s what they say. But for one couple, it’s all too much; enough, in fact, to send the groom crying to the arms of his female shrink, whilst his bride-to-be practices confetti-throwing at the office and plots to murder him. If That’s All There Is? is a picture of modern-living beyond neuroses; a love-hate relationship surrendering itself to full-blown hysteria.

This well-crafted devised piece from acclaimed company Inspector Sands tells the story of a typical 30-something couple – Daniel and Frances – whose IKEA-designed lives appear to revolve around pie charts (him) and office stationary (her). Despite the orderly appearances, however, reality is rather more chaotic. Disturbed by his fiance’s erratic behaviour, Daniel visits a psychiatrist; a decision that results in shedding light on his own problems, rather than those of his other half.

And so, whilst Daniel has his anxieties unpicked by a professional as eccentric as the two of them combined, Frances indirectly receives the same treatment from a ‘quality of life’ questionnaire delivered by an unenthusiastic office intern. The stress levels continue to sky-rocket, and the results confirm our fears – these people need help.

Without a pause for introduction, the piece throws you into the thick of things at the outset, tearing along as though it has no time to lose; each section stylistically dissolves into the next. There is no ‘setting the scene’ and yet from the word go, the characters are as fleshy and believable as you would hope.  That’s the result of three magnificent performances – a tour de force of comic timing from Lucinka Eisler, Giulia Innocenti and Ben Lewis.

The humour is self-deprecating and distinctly British, derived from human failure, repressed feelings and turning a blind eye.  When an abrupt, stabbing bout of cramp puts an end to a moment of heated passion, both parties ignore their disappointment. Brimming with all the mundane pedantries of modern-day-life, it’s sharply observed, whilst insightful enough to deliver real depth. Offbeat yet accessible, and consistently teetering on the edge of surrealism, it’s a reminder of cult TV comedy such as channel 4’s Green Wing – yet If That’s All There Is? is also brilliant and exciting theatre in its own right.

If this is your thing, this piece is surely a must-see: it has some audience members rolling in the aisles. For others, however, the humour may be at times rather grating and self-conscious, since once it’s established, it hardly deviates. Frances and Daniel are certainly characters we’ve met before, and for this the piece might feel predictable.  For me though, the shrink character managed to counterbalance this as a revelation in wit – delivering the funniest moments through mere gesture and facial expression.

Cleverly structured and thoroughly engaging, If That’s All There Is? is for anyone who’s ever allowed the most trivial of anxieties get the better of them. Which I’m guessing is the majority of us, and possible more times than we’d care to admit.

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