Oh, the Humanity at the Soho Theatre
Debuting in London after a sell-out run in Edinburgh, Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions is a short, sharp, touching snapshot of the lives of a handful of characters, each struggling with the painful and often absurd notion of being alive.
Directed insightfully and with appropriate simplicity by Erica Whyman, the production is a series of five monologues and duologues acted sensitively by Tony Bell, Lucy Ellinson and John Kirk. Ellinson in particular is captivating – she moves astonishingly quickly from character to character with impressive ease, and displays both vulnerable tenderness and perfect comic timing.
While very much separate sketches, each scene links thematically with an overriding sense of searching, truthfulness and perhaps even desperation. It works as a whole linear piece as the play gathers momentum. There’s the interview with the failing sports coach – a defeated figure searching for poetry in a vulgar world where his life is “barely a shambles”. Then there’s the man and woman recording videos for a dating service – this is a lovely observation of the sexes with the woman speaking in a stream-of-consciousness fashion and the man delivering series of statements, and, unaware of each other, their speeches seem to dovetail without ever actually touching. This scene is very funny – an exercise in the art of inadvertently “unselling” oneself – and mixes in the hope, worry, self-consciousness and complexity we all feel.
The play seems to gently hold up a mirror, leaving us with a heightened sense of self-awareness and emotions prickling under the surface of the skin. It’s cleverly designed so that we’re involved – it’s not quite audience participation, but we’re definitely all in it together. The production has impact without being too intense, and is invasive without being uncomfortable. Considering that it asks us to question the enormity of life, its rocketing pace, and our often bewildered search for stillness, it’s an enjoyable ninety minutes, thanks to the brilliant writing of the acclaimed Will Eno. Eno, who recently won a PEN Literary Award, achieves a beautiful balance of sadness and wonder, humour and solemnity, delivering a poignant and unique theatrical experience that will leave you at once comforted by the commonality of our anxieties and unsettled as they are laid bare.
Photos: Topher McGrillis
Oh, The Humanity is at the Soho Theatre until 13th October 2012. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch actor Tony Bell speak about acting in the production here: