The Old Man and The Pool at Wyndham’s Theatre

Mike Birbiglia’s one-man show is pretty close to (the highest quality) stand-up but with the shaggy-dog surrealism of Spalding Gray or David Sedaris. Birbiglia manages to be fresh, impeccably-timed and hilarious for a tight 90-minutes with pretty much one monologue told in his own voice. Whilst we hear tales of various other characters (Birbiglia’s cardiologist, mother, wife and lawyer amongst many) we only hear one other voice by way of impression: Birbiglia’s daughter to whom he gives a thicker Massachusetts accent – a point on which he layers further mischievous observation and affection. Unlike other single-actor shows, Birbiglia doesn’t really enact a series of characters. He simply tells a brilliant and universal story with masterful comic ability.

The Old Man and The Pool - Emilio Madrid.
The Old Man and The Pool – Emilio Madrid.

Of course, at the heart of the humour is (everyone’s) fear of demise and death but, whilst the emotion isn’t repressed, somehow this show manages to stay in the laugh-out-loud funny space pretty consistently. Indeed, I was reminded of Hannah Gadsby’s similarly deft ability to build and release tension such that it becomes a rather clever, and nearly impossible, wheeze to try not to laugh. Birbiglia knows what he’s doing. His presence is powerful, the material is tight and the experience is fun as much as it’s smart and funny.

The Old Man and The Pool manages to present a thoughtful and adult take on the absurdities and contradictions of life without needing to be especially daring. The show locates a strong sense of truth with playfulness and wit but doesn’t drift into the obscene or self-consciously edgy – testament to the strength of the writing and Birbiglia’s confidently self-deprecating poise. This production is a worthy diversion that has enough substance to call itself theatre without pretension but also so much good cheer simply to deliver great fun.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Chronicling his coming-of-middle-age story Mike asks the big questions: Why are we here? What’s next? What happens when the items at the doctor’s office that you thought were decorative become functional? This tale of life, death, and a highly chlorinated YMCA pool resonates with audiences ages 12 to 112, and won rave reviews whilst playing to sold-out houses in the US. Now “the best comedy of the year” (The New York Times) promises to charm London audiences.

Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Patrick Catullo, and Seaview present
Written and performed by Mike Birbiglia
Directed by: Seth Barrish
General Managed by: Wessex Grove
Acclaimed comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia plays a strictly limited run in the West End this Autumn with his hit show The Old Man & The Pool.

Wyndham’s Theatre
Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0DA
Tuesday 12 September – Saturday 7 October 2023

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