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Review of Tom Hartwell’s Before 30 at TheatreN16

Tom Hartwell in Before 30 - Photo credit: Toby Lee.
Tom Hartwell in Before 30 – Photo credit: Toby Lee.

Before he reached the age of 30, Richard Branson had already started the Virgin Records label, while Jennifer Lawrence, 27 years of age at the time of writing, is already an Academy Award winner. Even younger people have made a forged a career on stage – just look at the likes of Matilda The Musical and School of Rock The Musical. Chris (Tom Hartwell) has no desire to hit the dizzy heights of showbusiness – all he wants to do is work as a chef.

Happy to do those unsocial hours and exhausting shifts, for reasons explained in the narrative (or were they?), he finds himself instead pedalling his wares, quite literally, as a Deliveroo ‘rider’. For the uninitiated, it is an online delivery company. Customers place restaurant takeaway orders through the Deliveroo website, or app, and then the ‘riders’ (couriers by another name) get the order from the restaurant to the customer’s address by pedal bicycle or motorbike.

I quite like the service, despite having had to make a few complaints while using the service (though I haven’t had to do so for some time now). Once, a tub of baked beans spilled open en route to my house and coated the rest of my order, though the rider came off worse: he had to spend time cleaning out his food container. Deliveroo have proved most helpful when I am writing reviews and don’t wish to either cook a meal or leave my study to get a takeaway from the town centre, and it is with some irony that I had no need to use the service while writing this particular review.

It took this show to come along and make me take a step back and think about the always courteous riders and the lives they live while out there making a living. Before 30 looks at the life of a late twenty-something, going through something of a quarter-life crisis. While it takes an entire show to send out the message that it’s okay to not be okay, there’s much to consider – and, indeed, be entertained by – in the details of the journey Chris goes on. There are stories abound as to what happens to him – falling off one’s bicycle appears to be a rite of passage, hospital stay included.

The rapport established with the audience is very good, and maintained well, with regular direct addresses accompanying both dramatizations and descriptions. Chris’ living quarters are far from ideal, and with no bicycle to call his own, he relies on Transport for London’s cycle hire bicycles, eventually with disastrous consequences. There may or may not be a metaphor in Chris pedalling as he can, hurtling towards his thirtieth birthday, which, like almost everything else in life, rolls around a lot faster than originally anticipated.

The repercussions of going on holiday on a whim without having planned anything properly are hilarious in this production. He has a good idea, seeing as he is in Nepal, to ascend Mount Everest. A worthy enterprise, except he turns up at the base without even as much as a packed lunch, let alone climbing equipment. The play doesn’t have the happiest of endings, but it is a starkly realistic one. Despite admitting it is a story about a white, middle class, straight male facing ‘first world problems’, this doesn’t invalidate the production’s credibility or the strength of the script. A fast-paced, thought-provoking and enjoyable show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Homeowner? Parent? Deliveroo driver? Where should we be at 30? Before 30 explores the reality of the generation gap between life’s milestones. With the average first time buyer not on the property ladder until 35 and the growing trend in the temporary lifestyle of the gig economy, the prospect of ‘adulting’ has never been more intimidating.

Chris is an aspiring chef, delivering food to people who can’t be bothered to cook. His past struggles with depression and anxiety resurface when faced with the prospect of turning 30, constantly comparing himself to his accomplished Grandfather, who seemingly achieved everything so easily.

Written & Performed by Tom Hartwell.
Directed by Phil Croft.

Listing Information
Time: 8:30pm (60 mins)
Dates: 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th May.
Theatre N16, The Styx, 5th Ashley Road, London. N17 9LJ.


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