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Focus Group, Ovalhouse – Review

Pros: Brilliant writing, excellent acting

Cons: You have to be comfortable with audience participation to enjoy the show

Pros: Brilliant writing, excellent acting Cons: You have to be comfortable with audience participation to enjoy the show There are many reasons why I love Woody Allen. Not least of them is his rare gift of addressing profound existential issues in a way that is not only thoroughly enjoyable but also hysterically funny. In this regard Focus Group, a play adapted by Toot Theatre from David Foster Wallace’s short story Mister Squishy, is not unlike an Allen comedy. It tells the story of Terry, who works as a focus group moderator for Mr Kipling, the cake manufacturer. Terry is…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

A laugh-out-loud show that might just make you weep bitter tears the next time you open Facebook.

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There are many reasons why I love Woody Allen. Not least of them is his rare gift of addressing profound existential issues in a way that is not only thoroughly enjoyable but also hysterically funny. In this regard Focus Group, a play adapted by Toot Theatre from David Foster Wallace’s short story Mister Squishy, is not unlike an Allen comedy. It tells the story of Terry, who works as a focus group moderator for Mr Kipling, the cake manufacturer. Terry is an exemplary employee, but beneath the confident professional façade hides a man who goes back to an empty flat, reheats a ready-meal and spends hours alternately flipping through TV channels and polishing his Twitter profile.

Going back and forth between Terry’s professional and personal life, the play is a brilliantly written and unsettlingly resonant portrait of a perfectly ordinary man caught up in the modern world. It asks important questions about contemporary reality and whether or not modern life allows for connections other than those established at the tap of a finger. It is really powerful, notably due to fantastic performances delivered by Terry O’Donovan, Clare Dunn and Stu Barter. O’Donovan is utterly compelling in his beautifully layered and poignant portrayal of Terry. His task is made additionally challenging by the fact that his role is partly unscripted; because the show is largely based on Terry’s interactions with the audience, it relies heavily on O’Donovan’s ability to respond spontaneously while keeping in character, and he manages this in a way that looks effortless. Dunn and Barter, both playing two different roles, are equally persuasive.

The way the play is staged and directed also increases its potency. The space is very bare, leaving it to the audience’s imagination to conjure up the interiors of Terry’s office and his flat, but despite using only three pieces of furniture – an armchair, a table and a microwave – the setting is very evocative and feels surprisingly realistic. Lighting deserves a special mention, for the designer, Jackie Shemesh, has managed to accomplish something quite extraordinary with four desk lamps and an iPad. Playing with light and darkness, the play evokes Terry’s life in a sequence of images, creating almost a cinematic effect. Lighting also allows for transitions between the two planes, the professional and the private: the way the stage is lit changes depending on the setting. All aspects of the production tie in together beautifully; the play is a sheer pleasure to watch and participate in, and leaves a lasting impression that proves quite impossible to shake off.

Original Author: David Foster Wallace
Written and performed by: Stu Barter, Clare Dunn & Terry O’Donovan
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/focusgroup?spektrix_bounce=true
Booking Until: 04 February 2017

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