Lover’s Suicide – Jamie Biondi’s entry into the OUDS New Writing Festival – toes a difficult line. It gives time to the dramatic-potency of its characters’ self-destructive impulses, but also injects some much needed dark comedy into what could otherwise be, let’s be honest, a bit of an emotional slog. As the title would suggest, the play deals with some sensitive subject matter, centering around the lives of Gabe and Anna: two members of a support group for those who have attempted suicide. The tone is appropriately sinister; and due to some innovative (and bloody) make-up decisions, the audience remains hyper-aware that the story charts an intense slow-burn towards an inevitably dark conclusion. But, all is not as it seems in Lover’s Suicide, and the play contains enough twists and turns to keep us engaged.
The show indulges in too many of the clichés associated with this kind of plot-line (I wonder if Anna and Gabe will form a romantic connection?) and, as a result, the drama verges on ‘safe’ and a little predictable throughout. But, happily, the show breathes new life into these dramatic conventions with some clever comedy and some solid (sometimes extremely good) acting. At its best, its right-on-the-knuckle jokes leaves the audience in fits. Anna’s friendly banter with Gabe’s mother (played by Nathalie Wright) and her no-nonsense, ‘in-yer-face’ attitude provides a comic foil to Gabe’s anxiousness. Also, Gabe’s musical number (I won’t ruin it for you; but it’s a moment not to be missed) is another comic highlight. Moreover, given the show’s primary focus on Gabe and Anna, it’s a pleasant surprise to see the obvious comic talent of supporting cast-member, Doug Taylor, in his delightful performance as the endearingly eager, and hilariously right-on, support-group leader, Peter. Costumed in a perfect – I’ve-been-dressed-to-look-professional-and-sickeningly-friendly-all-at-the-same-time number (the trainers and pink shirt combo had me giggling before he even opened his mouth) – Taylor charmed the audience from the start and, for me, stole the show.
In contrast, the ‘serious’ sections of the drama were a mixed bag. Lynch and Flynn pulled off some very impressive scenes as Gabe and Anna, fully committing to the difficulties which come with playing characters with suicidal intent in an authentic and unpretentious way. But, despite some accomplished acting (their on-stage chemistry was particularly strong), the two protagonists struggled a little to give Biondi’s ending enough energy and, as a result, the last scenes left me cold where the actors were obviously aiming for shock and horror. The situation was aggravated by the great frequency of irritatingly long black-outs and some clunky prop management in the dark which stopped the actors’ performances from ever really gaining momentum. This is understandable, given the lack of rehearsal time with the full technical elements usually allotted to student productions in the Burton Taylor, but a problem, nonetheless. However, for a short, low-budget show, and one which only costs £5/£6 to boot, Lover’s Suicide is worth a watch. It may be a little too safe, but the show is a enjoyable and competent one, particularly in its unexpected comic charm.