Pros: Stuart Bowden gives an utterly compelling, confident performance.
Cons: It’s hazy in parts and lacks a clear direction at the start.
I had no idea what to expect from Before Us. Very little is given away to the audience beforehand and I expect that this is in part, because the experience is almost impossible to describe.
The show itself feels a little like a daydream. A patchwork collection of the strange and curious thoughts that cavort inside all our heads, but are very seldom expressed. Well, Stuart Bowden takes it upon himself express these thoughts and the end result is a show which is equal parts contemplative and sad, stomach-achingly funny and outright bonkers. A surreal world that Bowden ensures every single one of us feels a part of.
We are welcomed into the space with the sound of Bowden’s singing (and he does have a lovely voice). The stage is set with a microphone and a small selection of instruments. From the moment Bowden shuffles onto the stage in his fetching green sleeping bag and sock combination, carrying his Disney princess mug, the audience is captivated. He gives an impeccable performance, endearing in his total weirdness. A fascinating character with a deadpan, serious expression and a tendency towards eccentric dance moves. He is charming without trying to be. Someone whose story you instantly care about hearing.
And what a funny story it is. The last remaining insect of a particular species, who lives under a rock and only comes out at night. At times, it is ridiculous, and this only makes the audience laugh harder. At others, it is tender and contemplative; an irresistible combination, carried off with verve and confidence.
This seemingly silly tale is perfectly complemented by Bowden’s songs, created with a Casio keyboard and vocals. Each one is fun and catchy and Bowden’s enthusiasm for them is infectious. The music builds to a powerful final song which I defy you to go home without humming. The finale is perfect, every bit as weird and wonderful as you would hope, though I shan’t be posting any spoilers!
Before Us is wildly imaginative and brazenly unafraid to tackle big topics such as loneliness and isolation alongside its perfectly timed comedy. It is this juxtaposition of sadness and silliness that makes the show so beautiful. This fantastic piece will send even the grumpiest of us home with a spring in our step and a smile on our face.