Lifecoach @ Trafalgar Studios, London

cast list
Phill Jupitus
Amy Darcy
Katarina Olsson
Tim Plester

directed by
Nick Reed
Lifecoach. The very concept is enough to make you wince. As a profession, if you can call it that, it is the very definition of an easy target, almost beyond mockery. Any writer attempting to satirise this very 21st century phenomenon needs to have something particularly sharp up their sleeve and Nick Reed’s comedy, while entertaining in places, doesn’t quit hit the mark.

Phil Jupitus plays Colin, a man who, in his pin stripe suit and salmon pink shirt, charges company directors and other high powered folk 200 an hour to teach them how to ‘live their lives more effectively.’ One of his clients, a businesswoman of the scary power-suited sort, assigns him the considerable challenge of turning her hapless PA Wendy into a more useful and productive employee.

To say Wendy has self-esteem issues is an understatement. According to her boss, she is incapable of saying no to anything or anyone and ‘either smiles like a subnormal Cheshire cat or goes and cries in the toilets.’ When Colin asks her to tell him something she is good at, all she can come up with is ‘making tea.’ When he asks her to list the things she’s not good at, she fills a whole white board.

Colin’s initial attempts to make Wendy take control of her life lead to her not only being dumped by her boyfriend, Alex, a sponging, slimy creep who uses words like ‘chillax’ without shame,but also to her losing her job. Feeling a tad guilty Colin keeps her on as a client and, as he digs a little deeper, he discovers the root of her problems: a horrific childhood with an abusive and alcoholic mother who belittled her at every opportunity.

There’s an uneasy bipolarity to Reed’s play. Having started as something solidly amusing if rather light in tone, it slides into darker territory as Wendy is encouraged to deal with her past: to forgive her mother, gain some closure and attempt to move on. At one point, singled out in a spotlight, Wendy, played by Amy Darcy, recalls being turfed out of bed as a young girl and then watching as her drunk mother has sex with some random man. It’s a surprisingly harrowing moment – and one that arrives somewhat out of the blue, catching the audience off guard. As the play progresses it becomes more and more about Wendy’s transformation and less and less about Colin, whom we learn, rather unsurprisingly, lives a far from perfect life himself, still bitter about his divorce and redundancy.

Darcy is superb as Wendy, making her character’s journey from doormat to self-confident, assertive woman entirely believable. But while there’s something very watchable about Jupitus and he’s fine doling out Colin’s acronym-peppered patter, he seems far less comfortable with scenes that requires a degree of dramatic depth. Though to be fair, towards the end of the play he does succeed in conveying some sense of Colin’s emotional evolution.

Despite a few solid laughs and an uplifting ending, the play feels rather ungainly on the stage, it doesn’t quite fit. But, as an idea it does have legs and – as it already has an air of sitcom about it – I wonder if this could not be somehow rejigged for television.

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