A Beautiful Mess consists of two seemingly unconnected plays. Both began life as ten-minute shorts for “Under the Microscope”, an exhibition about Olive Elizabeth Aykroyd. Thankfully, knowing anything about Aykroyd is not a prerequisite in understanding these two plays, which emerged from the exhibition to take on lives of their own.
First is Peter Cutts’ Takotsubo, which traces the attempts of a couple to conceive, although when proceedings open it’s at the funeral of the husband. The story jumps back and forth in time, told in part by two gossiping couples, then the wife, Siobhan (Felicity Sparks), through her conversations with her priest (Daniel Miller).
It’s a gently rolling and amusing piece; the gossiping couples ( (Jennifer Tyler and Michael Armstrong making up the four cast members) lead us along nicely, while the rather trendy priest, offering Siobhan advice in the form of a book, but not “that one”, adds an interesting air of mystique to proceedings. But stealing the limelight are the two sperm racing to be first to the egg, both trying to convince the other that they should give up. This scene alone is enough to carry the whole play, eliciting a round of applause as the two sperm finally leave the stage! This scene may feel slightly at odds with everything else, but it’s one that the play should be further developed around.
After the interval is Rachel Goth’s Anatomy of a Date. It doesn’t take too long to work out the concept here; that we are witnessing someone’s inner dialogue as they prepare for a first date. Yes, that is very much the concept of Pixar’s Inside Out, but that’s not to take anything away from it.
Featuring the same cast members as Takotsubo, the first two (of three) scenes follow a couple preparing for a date. In each, the protagonist is silent, allowing us to instead follow their thoughts as they are played out around them. First is Todd, his anxieties flourishing having received notification of a match on a dating app. We know this as we watch his inner thoughts go from the mundane and routine to Code Red. Suddenly the part of him that is Boss finds itself fighting with Confidence, who is trying to keep things under control. It is hectic and beautifully played out. Scene Two sees Katie’s preparations, and this time her thoughts fight over whether she should take a risk or continue down her safe but boring path, all whilst she tries on different outfits, much to the despair of Anxiety.
These two scenes are wonderful, taking a clever idea and letting it flow. The way the thoughts are brought to life in Todd and Katie’s physical performance is a credit to both writing and directing, although some of the effect is lost due to the three actors being too spaced out at times on the large stage. And whilst the final scene, the date, is again full of soft humour, it somehow feels disjointed from the previous two scenes as we no longer get to see the thoughts take the lead.
The two plays somehow fit nicely together, making for a lovely evening out in the confines of The Exchange, the new(ish) and rather splendid venue situated opposite Twickenham Station. The venue is in itself certainly worth keeping an eye on for its diverse programming.
Written by: Peter Cutts (Takotsubpo) and Rachel Goth (Anatomy of a Date)
Directed by: Peter Cutts
Produced by: Offcutts
Booking until: This show has completed its current run.