Lion and Unicorn Theatre
I was intrigued to see how a time-loop style play would be executed with only two actors and a single bench for a set; but in ¿Rob or Rose? it’s the writing and performances of Henry Charnock and Eleanor Homer that accomplish an exciting wild run of a show.
Homer initially plays the infuriatingly naive Rose, apprehensively awaiting a date with someone she’s been speaking to online. Her ‘Disney princess’ demeanour creates a stark contrast to the version of Rose that presents later on. To complement her character, Charnock plays the heart-eyed yet friend-zoned prince role, who desperately – and not so subtly – encourages her that maybe this ‘Charlie’ person isn’t everything she imagined he’d be.
A short sequence repeats: they share a sweet and then sing a cringey (but self-aware) version of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, and the audience understands that the time-loop is resetting. The danger with such a device could be that the repetition gets old quickly, but fast paced and ever changing script ensures this does not happen. Just when you think you’re able to see the pattern emerging, there is a twist and something is revealed.
This set up allows for conversations about who we are in different scenarios, or in relation to others’ opinions of us: who Charlie is on a dating app, versus who he is in real life. It seems to be relatively superficial banter at first, but as the play develops, the meanings in their words develop deeper understanding.
Ultimately, the main theme of the show is identity. What makes us who we are? Does it depend on the viewpoints of others? Can a small change in actions – like accepting or declining the offer of a Percy Pig – affect our future? Using the form of two friends waiting for an online figure as a vessel to express these profound questions is a brilliant way to elicit laughs from the audience, whilst also encouraging deeper thought.
The sparse, symmetrical stage design enables the actors to mirror each other’s movements in repeated sequences; a subtle nod to the previous version of said time-loop. The sound of seagulls in the distance also evokes a consciousness of an outside world whilst nervously awaiting a date. Later on, however, the true meaning behind the chosen sounds is revealed, exemplifying just how well thought out this piece is: no detail is left unconsidered.
A small break in the fourth wall to discuss the butterfly effect further allows Charnock to express his questions about identity and time to the audience. Although this is an unexpected turn it seems slightly redundant, as much of what is discussed comes across through the well-written dialogue of the play itself.
The ending of the show allows for an incredible level of energy from the actors. Tensions rise and more bombshells are uncovered, which translate very tangibly into the reactions of the audience; unanimous gasping at revelatory moments, followed by tense silences. Once the show was finished, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the audience, with people buzzing to be able to discuss what they had just seen to one another. Overheard in the auditorium was even the phrase ‘this is the future of theatre.’
A show like this relies heavily on surprises and twists (does that count as a spoiler?), so being able to uncover enough to encourage people to watch it without disclosing classified information makes the job of a reviewer very difficult. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating performance that I would definitely recommend.
Written & Directed by: Henry Charnock
¿Rob or Rose? has finished its Camden Fringe run at Lion and Unicorn Theatre.