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Review of How (Not) to Live in Suburbia at Soho Theatre

How (not) to live in suburbia - Credit Claire Nolan
How (not) to live in suburbia – Credit Claire Nolan

What starts off as a rollicking stream of (articulate) consciousness expounding the raggedy charms of inner city life ends up delving into the personal struggles faced when isolation and loneliness threatens to swallow a person whole. How (Not) to Live in Suburbia is an autobiographical piece stemming from the madcap mind of writer/performer Annie Siddons in a show that openly embraces surrealism, and yet is undercut with a surprising bite of pathos.

Interspersing onstage audience address with filmed segments, she opens with a visit to her house from the ‘Walrus of Loneliness’. From here, steps are traced back to her beginnings as a wide-eyed newbie to the capital looking to embrace all that the big smog of London has to offer (well, from Zone 5, anyway). As a creative, she sets about pursuing the artist’s dream of fame and fortune whilst preserving her integrity. Aided from afar by a permanently vacationing agent, unfortunately, none of her ideas meet the nebulous criterion set by her absent, choosy representative. Frustrations spiral into estrangement.

Annie’s geographical placement (‘Twickenham: Home of Rugby’, as she persistently coins it) doesn’t help matters either, as she finds herself increasingly at a remove from her old crowd, who all seem to reside in New Cross – a place that takes on an almost mythical stature in her mind, like a Shangri La for the creative community. She tries to integrate into her immediate surroundings with her two ‘children’ (in actual fact, a pair of olive trees in a joke that outstays its welcome). Spurning the lascivious advances of inebriated members of a book club set, she takes to Tinder and more in order to find gratification and validation. The futility and fruitlessness only abets an inevitable descent into loneliness.

Siddons injects her work with vim, vigour and with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. There’s warmth in her regale even in the quirkiest and most outlandish of sections. Naturally, with this being a piece of theatre that aims for a high comedic strike rate, it is inevitable that some will miss the target. And there are plenty that do. When all is said and done, however, there is also a lot of mirth to be sourced.

How (Not) to Live in Suburbia would make an ideal companion piece to Carol Morley’s disturbing 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life, which charted an extreme case of city-centred loneliness. Whilst this production isn’t perfect, it is bold and unflinching. Above all, Siddons’s eloquent wordplay is never less than arresting, thereby ensuring that there is no chance of audiences finding their attention floundering on any banks of indifference.

4 stars

Review by Greg Wetherall

A few years ago in the middle of a shitstorm of life events, single mother, artist and proud Londoner Annie Siddons found herself living in suburbia by accident. This show is a hilarious, brutal and poignant attempt to describe what happened next.

With films by Richard DeDomenici.
Performed by Annie Siddons and Nicki Hobday.

Tue 29 Aug – Sat 2 Sep 2017


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