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It All by Cameron Cook at Soho Theatre | Review

There came a point in It All where the possibility was raised that – although not expressed quite so tersely – that life’s a b*tch and then you die. In a performance unafraid of delving into absurdism, there are several narratives going on, which is unusual in a solo performer show, and there are several characters voiced with sufficient distinction between them, which is more usual. I suppose it’s a coming of age story, with different perspectives on what contemporary living is like, although most if not all seem to have a common thread: life can be overwhelming.

It All - Roxy Central - Michael Hani Photographer.
It All – Roxy Central – Michael Hani Photographer.

I doubt the irony of the performance being equally overwhelming as contemporary living was lost on a discerning weekday Soho Theatre audience. There are moments, however, when the show comes up for air. This is done in various ways, including a change of pace and breaking character. Every so often we are reminded that this is indeed a theatrical production – one scene even stops and starts over on account of Cameron Cook apparently messing it up.

Cook is dressed in what is best described as a monochrome clown costume – someone who wants to entertain but circumstances mean he is only able to do so to a certain extent. Whether the circumstances are by default or by design (or a mixture) is unclear. The intimate performance space allows for every word of a subtle section of dialogue to be heard, while the more bombastic moments are never ‘too loud’ – by this I mean that one never wants to cover one’s ears because it is never uncomfortably noisy.

Then there’s Claire Parry, who provides violin, guitar and triangle accompaniment, and has integral parts (plural) to play in the performance itself, occasionally performing the same movements as Cook, and other times contributing to the atmosphere of a given scene. The timing is impeccable throughout.

Cook, for the most part, embodies angry characters, or at least sarcastic and frustrated ones – there is extensive commentary on miscellaneous groups and individuals, and rarely (if ever) is there fulsome praise. Corporate workplace performance management targets are hilariously lampooned, as is Sir Richard Branson (a point that could perhaps have been explored in more detail). Rightly or wrongly politics of the parliamentary kind doesn’t get a look in: or does it? When Cook snaps, speaking for the public at large, “You took my sleep!” and demands the right to be able to sleep at night – who is ‘you’? Who is it that is causing people to have worries and anxieties instead of a good night’s rest?

And why is this clown’s thinking so cluttered? This is evidently an intelligent person, and while the show is not about mental health, it’s difficult not, for instance, to think of the psychological wellbeing of a prepubescent schoolboy pondering what will become of his future. The show gets very physical at times – an enactment of stormy weather came across as very topical (at the time of writing, the UK had a series of storms causing disruption to the road and rail networks, as well as damage to properties). A highly engaging, if idiosyncratic, piece of theatre, it’s as unpredictable as life itself.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

An intense, dreamlike ride through different characters who stream forth in moments of absurdity, satire, and tenderness. Cook conveys with urgency his own struggle to understand what it all means, an effort which resonates powerfully in light of these last two years.

With stunning energy, Cook contorts across comedy, tragedy, mime, song, prose, and poetry. Accompanied throughout by the enigmatic presence of Claire Parry and her captivating music.

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