Trafalgar Studio 2, London SW1
Opened 22 May, 2008

Nick Reed’s 70-minute comedy is a slight but enjoyable piece about a self-regarding life coach attempting to turn around the life of a diffident office PA, only to find her turning in her own direction and getting him caught up in the spin. It might not warrant much attention if it were not the first London theatrical appearance of comedian Phill Jupitus.
Having seen him on last year’s Edinburgh Fringe in Waiting For Alice (a Tweedledum/Tweedledee two-hander inspired by his and his comedian co-star Andre Vincent’s resemblance to each other), I knew that Jupitus had more than adequate acting ability, but Life Coach calls for a great deal of astuteness in terms of pitching and developing his performance style. Jupitus, directed by author Reed, makes this progression superbly. Life coach Colin has a number of straight-to-audience soliloquies, and the first thing one notices is that Colin’s style is very different from Jupitus’s: faster, more even in pitch and volume, with much less gesturing, the same persona we see in his interactions with his subject Wendy and her boss Fiona. When Wendy in turn gets her big soliloquy revealing the supposed core of her self-esteem problems, Colin’s triumph in his next to-audience bulletin transforms him… transforms him, in fact, into Jupitus: the physical and vocal bounce are back. As Wendy begins to tread her own path, leaving Colin increasingly floundering, yet another range of tics and postures open up before us; only in these final few minutes does Jupitus even slightly overdo things, and what he overdoes is, paradoxically, the self-effacement. It’s a fascinating performance to watch, and indicates that if he chose Jupitus could be one of the more accomplished to tread the comic-to-actor route.
Amy Darcy pulls off a comparable transformation as Wendy. We see from early on that, like many sufferers from low-self-esteem, the character is not altogether timid and tentative, but wraps herself with some tenacity around a kernel of screw-up. There is imagination in the way Darcy’s Wendy vexes Colin, as well as an appealing mouse-that-roared sensation when she finally discovers a backbone and stands up not only to her boss and her exploitative ex-boyfriend, but to Colin himself. The ending is a foregone conclusion. Fun, and worth seeing not just to fans of the big fellow.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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