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A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Laughing Wild / Lantern Theatre / 25th July.

The young company Funny You Should Ask set themselves a challenge when they chose to perform Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang. Durang is known for his witty, off-beat and often controversial plays, and though much of his writing is sold as comedy, done well it can offer a depth which elevates it from easy humour to something far more poignant, rich and thought-provoking. The play is an irreverent mediation on sanity, the loneliness and claustrophobia of urban life and the cloying pressure to be happy in a world full of polarised points of view and clashing personalities. The first half consists of two monologues. A woman begins to tell us her story of hitting a man over the head with a can of tuna fish in a supermarket whilst fitfully digressing to stories about her mental health and hatred of Mother Theresa and Sally Jessie Raphael. Next up is the man who was hit - stressed, angry and doing his very best to remain optimistic whilst his insides drown in pessimism. The second half of the play brings the pair together in a surreal dream sequence where both have becoming increasingly obsessed with the encounter and their reactions to it. Bethan Ratcliffe played The Woman with some fervour, capturing the worryingly hysterical natural of her wild laugh well and delivering both humour and a sense of agitation. Likewise Matthew Malone deftly captured The Man’s rising tension and his hopeless attempt to stay optimistic. Both should be acknowledged for the energy they maintained during the play. Performing a monologue for half an hour is no easy feat and the actors rose to the challenge admirably without ever showing signs of fatigue. With some more considered direction, the performances could have been moulded to illuminate the quality of Durang’s writing better. As it was, it felt like the company didn’t fully understand the material they were dealing with, meaning the production fell short of fulfilling its potential. Laughing Wild isn’t a straight comedy, and it gets its depth (and much of its humour) from the uncomfortable swing between comedy and darkness which should culminate in provoking the audience. This production seemed preoccupied with creating humour at every opportunity, so that it not only missed out on challenging the audience, but also missed many real moments of tenderness. The remiss approach meant that when the play took a surreal turn in the second half it didn’t feel shocking, uncomfortable or even funny, but rather disjointed and incongruous. The final act should plunge us into the depths of these characters’ repressed unconscious. Durang is arguably taking cues from a Freudian understanding of the human psyche, but none of this (or an alternative take) came through in the production. Even in the repeated dream of the supermarket encounter it like felt the actors were going through the motions, rather than understanding why Durang might have included this sequence. It’s a shame this piece slightly missed the mark, but since this was just a preview show for Edinburgh there’s scope for it to be developed to its full potential come the festival. Either way I wish the company a good run in Edinburgh. )

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