Can I Help You? It’s a simple question, but without a simple answer. It’s one which Philip Osment jostles with in this slightly wacky two-hander, examining the concept of help and whether an individual truly has the ability to help another.
Neither Francis nor Fifi have received the help they needed. Fifi (Susan Aderin), cast out by her family, is now trapped in an abusive relationship. Her medication is failing to clear her mind. Instead she comes to the clifftop (where the play is set) and finds refuge in her memories. Francis (Gabriel Vick) is a policeman, his job to help others and keep people safe. Yet here he is about to take his own life, covered in someone else’s blood from a crime earlier that day, disillusioned by his profession. This brings into question our societal infrastructures and how successful the police or health services can be at helping society, an almost absurdly impossible task.
Both are consumed by their memories. Fifi projects Michael, her son, onto Francis, whilst he sees his mother in her. Their memories are played out on stage. These alternations between characters are well-performed by the two, whilst change of lighting helps with clarity. Whilst this allows us to gather a deeper understanding of the characters, at times it leaves the writing unfocused. Osment tries to cover gender, race, religion and class through his four characters but fails to substantially unpick any of them. This means the play struggles to find a clear direction, leaving the audience slightly bewildered.
The play gets off to a bit of a false start. Francis is at the top of the cliff prepared to jump before Fifi interrupts him. This has the potential to be an explosive and gripping opener but misses the mark slightly. If you’ve read the synopsis on the website or even glanced at the first lines of it you’ll know that Francis doesn’t jump. We are meant to be thrown in at the deep end, Francis should be at the climax of his emotions but it leaves us feeling slightly detached. A contributing issue is the way the space is used. The set consists of a slight ramp with wire at the front of it, where the drop off the cliff would be. Whilst it effectively communicates their location, it diminished the stakes of the play. This ramp is only a couple of feet above the floor, eradicated any sense of danger. As a result, the dramatic peak of the play, when Fifi and Francis nearly jump off together, falls flat. At no point am I concerned for their safety, so struggle to believe in the situation. The writing here is also a little stilted and stereotypical, not quite touching me in the way I think it was meant to.
The joy of this play though is to be found in the absurd moments of comedy between Fifi and Michael. One specific scene comes to mind nearing the end when, sitting in the rain, Fifi shares her rice with Francis. They share a moment of peaceful silence and unity as they eat. For me this is the most touching scene. There is beauty in the simplicity and absurdity of it. It doesn’t feel forced or pressured. No-one is trying to force help onto the other, they’re just present together, enjoying that instance in time. It is in moments like this that the play excels.