Pros: Eve Steele’s performance is raw, funny and unforgettable, capturing every side of her complicated character throughout his life.
Cons: Final sections of the play could spend more time referencing how the main character’s actions affected everyone around him, and what the future might hold for them.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a one-woman play about a thief in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction wouldn’t be a laugh a minute. You might assume that this character, James Joseph Patrick Keogh, had been lifted from a popular misery memoir: abused as a child, then drifting into a long and varied prison career, from borstal to Strangeways. But that wouldn’t take account of the magnetic and often funny script, accented by blasts of music, that makes Life by the Throat so gripping. Jamie is not a misery memoir kind of guy: his anger and sadness is largely turned inward, and he only says, ‘Why me?’ towards the end of the play, before quickly countering himself with, ‘Why not me?’.
Jamie Keogh is more than just a figment of writer and actor Eve Steele’s imagination. As the notes for this play reveal, Steele and director Ed Jones founded the Most Wanted company to tell real stories, using their own life experiences, and those of people they meet and interview. Steele’s battle with drug addiction can be dug up with a simple Google search (when she was cast on Coronation Street in the ’90s, a former friend sold a story about her ‘heroin hell’) and, as flippant as it sounds, her past adds weight to her performance. However, a drug taking and house breaking montage is hard to watch, not because of her performance, but because the trance music playing over the top is ear-splittingly loud. Perhaps this is deliberate, to show how Jamie is oblivious to the chaos he’s created, but it’s a tad painful, and miles away from the reggae sounds of earlier scenes.
The 70 minutes of this show zip by in no time at all, despite there being no scenery or props: just Steele and the stage. She uses the simplest gestures and body language, paired with spot-on accents, to show different characters popping up in Jamie’s life, transcending his uniform of tracksuit bottoms and sports top. In a scene with Jamie and his future girlfriend dancing in a club, she effortlessly flips between male and female, never losing sight of who she’s portraying. The production lighting also helps to set the mood for each part of Jamie’s journey, especially a poignant section where he recites lines from The Ballad of Reading Gaol inside a German prison.
To complete the play, I’d have liked more insight from the other characters towards the end. Early on, Jamie’s mum’s frustration at her son’s behaviour is clear, and later there’s no mistaking the emotions of his girlfriend, but some questions remain unresolved. Could Jamie’s kids have followed in his footsteps? Were they scared of him? Did his siblings ever commit crimes themselves? I left with unanswered questions, but maybe that shows how affecting this drama can be. It is far from misery memoir territory, despite the subject matter, and you’ll leave on a high, not a low, from seeing this diamond in the rough.
Author: Eve Steele
Director: Ed Jones
Producer: Most Wanted
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/life-by-the-throat/?spektrix_bounce=true
Booking Until: 22 April 2017