Tell Me…Lies @ Arts Theatre, London

cast list
Sean Carrigan
Sally Day
Eleanor Samson
Jonathan Taylor
Carole Weyers

directed by
Catherine Paskell

Carol-Anne Le Foll’s Tell Me…Lies is presented as an inventive and surreal study of schizophrenia. There is plenty of innovation: experimental dance sequences; bright, vivid colours; repetitious shouting and slapstick tumbles, its all here. What’s lacking is any real depth or thought.

The principle difficulty lies with the material itself. The play lacks application. Its frantically busy without achieving anything; saturated with drama, but at no point dramatic. Thirty minutes was enough for some of the audience, a handful of whom slept or alighted.

Despite having all the characteristic features of a narrative play, there was little to narrate. Abi, the central character, has moved in with her sister after the death of their mother; unable to cope with her sense of loss, she has seemingly slipped into madness or, to be more specific, has gained two imaginary companions and lost the ability to make good decisions. It is in this humour we first make her acquaintance, and it is in this humour we bid her farewell. The macroscopic structure of play actually prohibits dramatic tension. There is no journey. There are no obstacles for our unfortunate protagonist to circumvent or overcome. Nothing changes.

And this despite the fact that Abi sleeps with her sisters boyfriend. (It happens off-stage. There are no repercussions. One sentence in the script is the sum of the entire episode, and even that is a good deal shorter than this one).

Of course, plenty of work has succeeded without such superfluous bourgeois embellishment. The novelist BS Johnson springs to mind he was as surreal as they come. Life does not tell stories, he once said. Any attempt to extract a narrative from life’s multiplicity must, by necessity, involve the odd lie. But there is no suggestion that Le Foll is discarding fiction in the search for truth, for neither truth nor beauty reside here.

Instead, we are left with a thinly-sketched character study. Whilst much has been invested in Abi her psyche, including hallucinatory friends, has required three actors to fully represent she is spread thin, exposed, lacking complexity and sophistication. This is certainly no fault of Sally Day, who is convincing in the role.

Indeed, the cast and crew have clearly done their best, but no entourage no matter how profoundly gifted could ever flesh-out these apparitions, doomed to repeat themselves, autonomically, for some weeks to come.

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