Theatre: Anything But
Salome Wagaine found it to be an affecting and hilarious production
“Fuck off, Agnes, you’ve ruined everything as it is”, exclaims one of the fellow mourners at Agnes’ father’s funeral. The charm and wit of Anything But is that it manages to endear us over the course of an hour to the sort of person you’d probably get very bored of very quickly.
Unlike last year’s Henry Porter Prize winner’s slot, this production, with a script co-written by Mark Fiddaman and Lucien Young, had a very sparse set, leaving Abi Tedder alone on stage but for a chair. However, Tedder’s presence was such that this was by no means an impediment, although occasionally one wished there were a few props to hand, particularly towards the end.
But this was a one-woman show, and the bulk of what has to be said about the production is, naturally, going to be tied up in Tedder’s performance. And it was a fine performance. Being as linked to a project for so long as she, the writers and director (Ben Ashenden, who is to be congratulated maintaining a nice variety of pace) have clearly have their advantages, although one gets the feeling that movements are such that even with a less strong script, the audience would be just as moved to laugh with and reflect upon events with Agnes, a character whose first instinct is always to help (perhaps an overly-used phrase during the course of the play, but this is a relatively minor quibble). The awkwardness and incongruous humour that is present at a parent’s funeral is captured brilliantly by Tedder, whose strides and darting eyes really brought alive the feeling behind the script.
Fiddaman and Young have done a good job in combining the obviously hilarious (I, for one, am glad the phrase ‘cricket gloves’ doesn’t appear too often in my everyday conversations, owing to one particularly nasty image) with a slower paced tenderness. Solo shows might have the disadvantage of losing the audience’s attention owing to its sometimes sprawling nature, a characteristic that was tackled comfortably during the course of the monologue, with many jokes being based on a surprising association with the phrase before. This was supplemented by the use of projected images, although maybe only one of the inner monologues was as effective as just having Agnes say something out loud. Anything But is a well-oiled production, one that invites frequent laughter and elicits a genuine swell of emotion, a formidable feat for an hour spent with a stranger.