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Beyond Ourselves at the Union Theatre | Review

I didn’t think I was going to like this show – performing arts graduates turning up to knock ideas together seemed to be the order of the day. There are indeed some rather absurd moments, but the exchange of ideas between the characters means there’s invariably a touch of realism to every wild idea asserted. There’s enough humour in the script (about a play that has no script), too. The dialogue plays to the gallery to some extent, in the sense that actual discussions about the making of a show would probably be significantly more tedious than they are here. The audience is spared, for instance, watching a technical rehearsal.

Beyond Ourselves - Photo by Mark Douet
Beyond Ourselves by Ardent Theatre Company.
India Pignatiello, Danielle Laurence, Thoma O’Neill, Caoimhe Mackin, Eddie Drummond, Jake Rayner Blair, Callum Diaz and Annabel Worsfold. Photo by Mark Douet.

The characters are largely nameless throughout the show, aside from Jake Rayner Blair, who introduces himself at one point as Jake, and so I can only conclude the others are also playing characters with the same names as themselves. This, at the risk of pedantry, is not quite the same as playing themselves, but rather versions of themselves – as one of them points out, simply being totally oneself requires no acting at all, and what would be the purpose of that, in terms of putting on a show?

I am making the show (or the show within the show) seem more philosophical and airy-fairy than it really is. The creative process relies centrally on what another show I saw some years ago called ‘CGI’ – collective group imagination – and interestingly, it is only when the whole group is prepared to indulge in deep creative thinking that, to quote the musical Avenue Q, “fantasies come true”. The takeaway message seems to be that it is better to shoot for the stars and achieve something greater than what would have happened if one hadn’t bothered at all.

Some insights into what life is like for young actors are rather bluntly crowbarred into the dialogue – for instance, Annabel Worsfold’s character started talking about working in a very different industry to performing arts, doing something she is good at but doesn’t enjoy, just to keep the bills being paid. Eddie Drummond’s character said something about having to dodge a rail fare just to get to an audition, his disposable income being what it is. Danielle Laurence’s character briefly mentions racial discrimination, and while technically it is a woefully underexplored issue here, it’s also one that has been covered in various ways elsewhere (take, for instance, the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the 2021 play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy).

The show is perceptive enough elsewhere to know when it is starting to tread well-covered ground – as an idea starts to take shape, it’s pointed out the concept is too similar to a certain American television situation comedy. There may not be anything groundbreaking about the idea of using one’s imagination for positive reasons, but the combination of gritty reality and idealistic imagining produces something as compelling as it is hilarious. The company, some of whom are making their London theatre debuts in this production, are evidently enjoying bringing this curious and witty show to life.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A new dark, surreal comedy.
A dream turned sour and then turned sweet again with the help of a song, a prop and a touch of rouge.

A group of recent performing arts graduates take over an empty space with the intention of creating something. Anything, it doesn’t matter. A moment that can be shared with an audience if in fact any audience ever turns up to see it. But should that matter? Is art created for an audience or for the artist themselves? BEYOND OURSELVES is a new play created for the Ardent8 Ensemble and written by Andrew Muir which aims a spotlight on the current state of our creative industry for those young graduates wishing to make a career out of it. The obstacles they face and the drive and determination to overcome them. A dream turned sour and then turned sweet again with the help of a song, a prop and a touch of rouge, this story aims to ignite the flame that is so often blown out.

Tue 7 – Sun 12 Nov 2023 – UNION THEATRE, LONDON
Tuesday to Friday at 7.30pm. Matinee on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
Wed 13 March 2024 – LIGHTHOUSE, POOLE – 8:00pm
https://www.ardenttheatre.co.uk/

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