REVIEW: Jamie Lakritz’s “The Start Of Something” (Studio Theatre Company, South Hill Park)

Has the successor to “Talking Heads” arrived?

  • Stars (out of 5) = 5
  • One-sentence review = This is what you’d get if Alan Bennett read-up on chaos theory & decided to write a new series of “Talking Heads”.
  • Good for people who = Love “Tales of the Unexpected”, monologues, and having stories read to them.
  • Not good for people who = I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this.
  • Would Alan Bennet like it = Yes.

Spoilers are the bane of the modern reviewer. Whether you’re posting reactions to a trailer for the new Stephen King movie, sharing your impressions of a new Super Mario game, or writing theatre reviews in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that you’re secretly a nerd – it’s very difficult to talk about Something New without inadvertently revealing Something That Happens.

Case in point: it’s fundamentally impossible to review “The Start Of Something” without spoiling it for you. So how do I convince you that you need to experience it, when I can’t really convey why it’s so good?(fascinating side-note: Marillion fans face a similar problem when trying to convince non-believers to give the band a chance). Well now, let’s see…

1) It has characters worthy of “Talking Heads”

Picture a stage divided in three, each space containing a separate character who wants to tell you their story.

On the left-hand side is a cold flat, containing a few overflowing boxes and the odd memento that’s escaped their clutches. Here we meet Amy (Hannah Collman), a young professional who’s discovered a lost letter to an unknown woman beneath the floorboards. Where did it come from, and why were the floorboards up in the first place?

On the right-hand side is a sprawl of toys, games, a child’s paintings and ironing boards. Here we meet Emma (Laura Hannawin), a young mother whose partner manages disasters in a Care Home. Why does she wear a secret smile whenever she speaks about a man who’s rarely home?

In the middle of the stage, a comfortable armchair sits amidst a nest of letters, brightly colored mugs, books and what appears to be a flame-red miniature post-box. Here we meet Evelyn (Jeanette Rourke), reminiscing about a hip operation that led to love at first sight. Will her new hip stand up to mad passionate love-making in a hospital bed?

Each character is expertly brought to glorious life by the actresses, who not only prove themselves to be captivating storytellers but who also, brilliantly and believably, capture the panoply of emotions they experience within those stories. It is no small feat; miss this, and you miss some of the best acting I’ve seen on The Studio Theatre’s stage.

2) It unfolds like the best episodes of “Tales of the Unexpected”

Do you remember “Lamb To The Slaughter” – that Roald Dahl story/TV episode where a pregnant Mary Malone waits for her husband to come home, only for him to disclose on arrival that he’s leaving her for another woman, so she kills him with a frozen leg of lamb which she then serves to the investigating officers when she calls in the “discovery” of his dead body?

Roald Dahl’s story started with a simple and familiar premise before rapidly unraveling into events that were extraordinary and yet, through the all-too-human way Mary Malone reacted to them, very relatable – stories where seemingly small details and objects could grow to have enormous significance.

“The Start Of Something” takes the female-centric monologue setup of “Talking Heads” and combines it with this style of storytelling – meaning that writer Jamie Lakritz leaves you forever on the edge of your seat (and wondering why three unrelated stories are sharing the same stage…)

3) You just don’t get this kind of experience in big theatres

Just as “Talking Heads” functioned best on the radio or TV (where the voice was placed front and center, and the backdrops were either imagined or thinly sketched-out), “The Start Of Something” comes to life through the sense of intimacy it creates with the audience. The sets are masterclasses in minimalism – there is just enough to convey the character of the people who live in them, but not enough to distract from the actresses.

Under these circumstances (and the poetic direction of Luke Burton and Gemma Roch) every intonation and shift of pace in the actresses’ voice, every gesture and change in their posture, becomes magnified, weaving a simple and elegant narrative spell that will leave you enraptured through the all-too-brief runtime.

If you ever wondered what the 3rd series of “Talking Heads” would’ve been like, or you miss seeing Roald Dahl introducing an episode of “Tales of the Unexpected” from his seat by the fireplace, I invite you to visit https://www.southhillpark.org.uk/events/studio-theatre-presents-the-start-of-something/ to book tickets for “The Start Of Something”, running 2nd – 5thOctober at The Studio Theatre, South Hill Park…

…and to listen to “Kayleigh” by Marillion on the way there. Honestly, you’ll thank me afterwards.

(Photos used with the kind permission of Alex Harvey-Brown, Savannah Photographic)

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Published by
Michael Beakhouse
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