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LIFE WITH A LITTLE “L” at The Golden Goose Theatre

I haven’t read Charles Bukowski’s (1920-1994) works extensively, but he was a novelist and poet, which isn’t quite the same as being a playwright: in other words, his stories were originally written to be read rather than performed. There is, therefore, a fair bit of exposition in this production, which works surprisingly well, avoiding getting bogged down in the minute details of each of the short stories, whilst allowing those very same details to make each story more than sufficiently nuanced.

LIFE WITH A LITTLE "L"
LIFE WITH A LITTLE “L”.

The set is kept relatively sparse – I suppose it would be possible, given a large enough budget, to create a distinct living space for each main character in the six stories (or mini-plays, if you will), but the focus here is on the storytelling. Each of the stories is easy to follow thanks to direct addresses to the audience, which go so far as to describe how a character, whether central or supporting, is feeling.

It would be quite wrong, however, to assume this might as well have been a radio play – in one story, Robert brings home a mannequin (bought from a shop in the town centre, itself an amusing scene, as it wasn’t technically for sale). What he does with it is both more than a tad absurdist and yet totally believable, but it is how ‘Stella’, the mannequin, is portrayed, by a member of the company, that earns a deserved mid-scene round of applause.

Some characters in these very American stories are not so much stereotypes but people from a different era, a previous generation with different societal norms. And there’s a difference between saying one wants to do certain things to people and actually doing them – or not. Behaviours from characters are not always predictable: for instance, when Joyce files for divorce from Hank in the final story, I would have expected more of an attempt on Hank’s part to keep the relationship going. Instead, he seems to follow a mantra of ‘whatever Joyce wants, Joyce gets’ to the literal bitter end.

Interestingly, these are distinctly working class stories. Someone works night shifts, partly because it suits them, but mainly out of economic necessity. Someone else comes home after a day at the office, beyond irritated at a manager who repeatedly hummed the same tune all day. A third character finds it necessary to sell a record collection rather than donate it to a charity shop or to the nuns who end up buying it from him. Somehow, there’s intrigue in the mundane, each story capturing both the awkwardness and humour in everyday interactions.

Accordingly, the challenges faced by the various characters are largely relatable, which in turn gives the production a broad appeal. These are stories to be enjoyed, told as they are at a moderate pace, neither hurried nor dawdling. Gritty and intriguing, this is pub theatre done brilliantly.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

LIFE WITH A LITTLE “L” is a dramatic composition of six plays from AЯT THEATRE, in the genre of dirty realism, set in & with music from 1950s-1970s, USA. This work is inspired by the life and works of Charles Bukowski, a true literary legend, the king of the underground & a “laureate of American lowlife”.

Five actors, graduates of Drama Centre London, each playing several roles, transform themselves in front of the audience. As modern artists we delve into the lives & fates of these characters and we ironize, laugh, reflect & sympathise.

These tales contain hope, the possibility that we may still be able to unshackle ourselves from circumstance & social position and open ourselves up to love & happiness.

The stories by Charles Bukowski include:
– Loneliness
– A Man
– Hard Without Music
– Love for $17.50
– A45 to Pay the Rent
– Post Office

ART Theatre Presents
LIFE WITH A LITTLE “L”
Directed and Adapted by Anya Viller
Friday 22nd – Saturday 23rd December
https://www.goldengoosetheatre.co.uk/

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