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Rémy, Arcola Theatre

Created and Performed by Claire Gaydon

Pros: A very enjoyable performance from a charming young actress and some lovely, magical storytelling.

Cons: The story seemed to contain quite a bit of filler and sitting in the Arcola Tent in December can be a fairly uncomfortable experience.

Our Verdict: Not a particularly energetic or engaging story but it is brimming with warm-hearted, feel-good cheer and an uplifting performance that is both refreshingly minimalistic and natural. Be sure to wear your thermals though – ideally head to toe.

Courtesy of Everything I Own

Rémy, a new one-woman show at the Arcola Tent as part of the EH to E8 Festival, opens with our performer gazing at a giant map of Europe, dated 1792. Sawdust scatters a stage which is mostly bare apart from a couple of plants and a small wooden bench. Rémy is a young French soldier during the Napoleonic wars and he (not she) is brimming with enthusiasm for almost everything he comes into contact with, from rose gardening to shape-shifting circus animals. He also has a curious fascination with Bonaparte himself – a love which borders on religious devotion.

From the outset, this show has an experimental, almost improvised feel to it. Claire Gaydon interacts with the audience in a very sweet, gentle way which never feels intimidating (I usually get very nervous when actors speak to me during a performance). She reacts to the audience’s behaviour on a number of occasions which works a treat, getting us all involved in her character and the story. Gaydon is so fundamentally likable that it is impossible not to be on her side, whether you enjoy the storyline or not. In fact, the best thing about this show is Gaydon herself. The story, for me, felt a bit hit-and-miss at times with many strands feeling too much like filler. If it wasn’t for the performance itself being so completely adorable the whole way through, I would have probably struggled to keep focus.

Claire Gaydon’s acting is refreshingly low-key and naturalistic and the character of Rémy feels like a real life person standing in front of us. Her character’s demeanour suggests an individual who is full of youthful confidence, charm and vigour and so it is very easy to empathise with him. Gaydon excels at child-like storytelling and it is through her clever use of props (which take on secondary characters and animals) that the real heart and soul of the story takes flight. Unfortunately, her projection regularly wasn’t quite strong enough during the delivery and at times I could not hear what was happening on stage (I had to wait for her to cross over to my side to hear the action sometimes). This led to parts of the story getting lost and so my interest waned slightly. That being said, I think it’s important to note that poor vocal projection is a common issue with previews and press nights and the problem is usually ironed out before a show’s official run. One other issue is that although the show feels consistently natural and unforced, there were some darker moments within the story which could have done with more energy to create better dramatic effect. In particular, there is a moment where Rémy witnesses a soldier suffering an unimaginably cruel and gruesome death which could have been a lot more interesting if it had been delivered in a more exciting and imaginative way.

Rémy is a story about a young man at war and I found it fascinating to see a young, attractive female play this role so believably. Her costume is both perfectly suited to the character and, to my taste, it is really beautiful too. It is terrific to see a talented young woman like Gaydon bravely take on a complex male character so effectively (and in a one-woman show too). In an industry that remains arguably male dominated in terms of available acting roles, I hope she inspires many young actresses to come forward and do the same.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

Remy has now completed its run at the Arcola Theatre. For more information about the production company (Everything I Own) please visit http://www.everythingiown.co.uk/.

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