It was lovely to arrive at the Bunker Theatre on a dark, rainy Sunday night to find it abuzz with theatre-goers there for the first night of Karaoke Play. Playing Sunday & Monday nights, Karaoke Play is running until 14th October. Simultaneously running Tues-Sat until 19th October, there is ‘We Anchor in Hope’. I mention this other production, because Karaoke Play benefited from their wonderful pub set design created by Zoe Hurwitz. A great example of scheduling being used to take advantage of the set that is in place. You genuinely feel like you are in a pub, and there is the option of sitting in the heart of the action, in the pub seats themselves. Hurwitz’s design is intricate in its detail and well worth celebrating by being the focal point of a second, additional show. It really makes me want to see ‘We Anchor in Hope’ too.
I am not familiar with the works of Annie Jenkins, and after seeing Karaoke Play, that is something I want to rectify. She is clearly a keen observer of human behaviour, and its the small details that not only help create four very honest and believable characters studies, but that also help weave them together. There is no judgement or heavy handed moral message sitting behind this play. As each character takes their turn to tell the different elements of their story, you can’t help feeling compassion for them, even with all their flaws and limitations. These are damaged, realistic, everyday individuals, and the sense of their being trapped in their lives threads through the piece. Strangely it is the mundane things (a love of mince, the smart shoes last worn for a funeral etc) which are echoed in the different stories, that makes this play so affecting.
In addition to being an exquisite and sensitive piece of new writing, Karaoke Play boasts an extremely talented cast. Lucy Bromilow is stunning as the self-destructive Perri. Her face carrying every emotion with such conviction. With a lesser performance it would be easy to write Perri off as a mess you’d avoid, but Bromilow brings out the depth of her character with a wonderful, delicate touch. I couldn’t help feeling a little heart-broken for her. This is a stellar performance.
Philip Honeywell is charming and engaging as Darren. He successfully conveys Darren’s appeal to others, while also showing us his darker, almost sociopathic nature. This is a man who struggles to connect with others. He is flippant about those who care for him, a deep rooted detachment hiding behind his mega-watt smile. But he is also one of the more dynamic elements of the play, believing that we should make our own excitement, while also having a morbid fascination with death and acts of terrorism.
Kelly is such a wonderful invention and Jackie Pulford brings her to life with real humour and sensitivity. While you might want to mock her for her dreams of celebrity, her sheer desperation pulls at the heart. This is an older woman who has seen all her dreams slip away, and yet she does not give up. She is clearly deluded, but seeing behind the brave, glamorous face she projects to the outside world, you can’t help understanding her pain and disappointment at life.
Finally we have Christopher Jenner-Cole’s awkward Linford. A family man, with a family that tolerates him, who loves another woman who barely notices him. There is a gentleness and openness to the performance that make you hope for Linford in his too-tight waistcoat, but despite being a comedy, this is not an optimistic play.
While each piece of monologue is delivered by the respective character, under Lucy Grace McCann’s astute direction, you see their story reflected in the background responses of the other characters, as if they are inhabiting the moment that is being shared. This cleverly makes the stories feel all the more present and urgent, while building that sense of connection between the characters.
In a nutshell, Karaoke Play is a beautifully written, darkly comic character study of four damaged British people, brought to life by a pitch-perfect cast. I suspect it will haunt me for quite some time.