“Come with us on this journey,” invites the programme for Oh, The Humanity! And it’s a quirky ride, with four actors playing nine characters between them, two of which are intriguingly described as “As Himself” and “As Herself”. What’s more, the original script strongly suggests the show can be done with three actors, as indeed it was at its first run in New York in 2007 and its first UK production, in Newcastle, in 2011. The show is presented as five mini plays, united by a common factor in directly engaging the audience. Quite how they do so would be revealing too much, but there is nothing for the shy to be apprehensive about. Or the confident, for that matter. But there are more than nine characters: the audience plays – or, rather, assumes – at least two ‘roles’, separately. I consider the five mini plays in turn.
Behold The Coach, In A Blazer, Uninsured does not actually see the said Coach (Jason Ricketts) in a blazer, at least to the best of my recollection. I do not know what ‘uninsured’ refers to. There’s some frank and open honesty as thoughts that would ordinarily remain as thoughts are spoken out, a method repeated throughout the evening’s proceedings that makes for succinct and detailed character development without making anything over complicated. This particular monologue is amusing and profound in equal measure. The setting only gradually becomes clear through the script, and a few more props would have been helpful in giving a more authentic feel to the scene.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rain features the (un)imaginatively titled Gentleman (Max Wilkinson) and Woman (Rudzani Kgomotso Moleya). Both are recording lengthy and detailed descriptions of themselves and their lives. The reason for this is not made clear. These are, at surface level, dating website videos, but the depth and breadth of the topics covered takes the characters far beyond merely expressing desires for companionship. The script is well constructed, and the performances highly realistic in their portrayal of the sort of awkwardness that goes along with wanting to make a good impression without coming across as trying too hard.
Enter The Spokeswoman, Gently sees the said Spokeswoman (Florence Cady) letting the audience in on what her true sentiments are with regards to a major incident in her company. There’s what she must say as part of her public relations job, and there’s the no holds barred version of events and how she would interpret them if only she could express such views and retain her paid employment. It’s a metaphor, of course, for all those who feel powerless or have come under pressure to do or say something they know to be questionable. That this play tackles such moral and societal issues without condescension is to be commended.
The Bully Composition is as scripted as all the other plays, but there’s a deliberate aura of improvisation going on. Think of the television series The Office, which some people believed to be improvised because of how it was done; as is the case here, it was all scripted. Following the convention set down in the script and in this production’s programme, I get to list the characters here as Jason Ricketts (Jason Ricketts) and Rudzani Kgomotso Moleya (Rudzani Kgomotso Moleya). Essentially, there’s a photo shoot going on, but every break in shooting is used to explore other topics, and I found it rather riveting to listen to so much interpretation being drawn out from mere photographs.
Oh, The Humanity (for that is what the final mini play is called) became increasingly surreal, standing in marked contrast to the relatively naturalistic style of everything that came before. Woman (Florence Cady) and Man (Max Wilkinson) are sat in their car and it won’t start. Or are they sat in their car? After all, there isn’t an actual car on stage. But there’s something irresistibly compelling in a show that runs through almost every human emotion without leaving its audiences exhausted. I am not sure, however, whether five viewing angles of the same coin are strictly necessary. Nonetheless, with a lot of questions on the imponderables and idiosyncrasies of life, this is, all in all, a strong and admirable piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Comaweng
Five short plays about being alive.
We’d like you to meet a bunch of people with something on their mind. There’s a coach with an awkward confession to make and a spokeswoman who doesn’t know what to say. This man and that woman want to fall in love, but they’re not quite sure how. Oh, and these people want to take your picture, so just act natural, OK?
Witty, charming and playful, Oh, The Humanity exposes the terrible hope and hilarious uncertainty of our lives, through the eyes of one of New York’s hottest playwrights.
Oh, The Humanity
16 August – 20 August 2016
Running Time: 60 mins