The Life We Lived played its debut season at Theatre N16, the London leg of a Spring tour. It is a play that enters into the world of philosophy, examining what might have been if….
Playwright Matt Fox has written a string of plays and operas the best known of which is Swindon: The Opera. The Life We Lived is a duologue between a funeral director and the woman who will eventually become a corpse in his parlour.
The play is presented as a mixture of narration, delivered straight to the audience, and scenes. It is the played scenes that are strongest but even there the content is often slow and heavy with discourse. Unfortunately, the narration also slows the pace of the show – as do the constant changes of lighting denoting scene changes. In all, the production is intolerably long, with final curtain not til around 11pm.
Time is a critical factor in the story. The first Act begins at the end and then throws back to the start of the relationship. The change in time is represented by an actor tearing off a page of a calendar on the wall. This is a device easily grasped by the audience. It is effective in the first instance but by the end of the play, after an incalculable number of scene changes, the tearing off of the page becomes tedious and, ultimately, somewhat confusing.
The second Act does a Sliding Doors trick and the audience is back at the start of the relationship following an alternative course of events, the ‘what would have happened if…’ scenario. Again, this is all mapped out by the ubiquitous calendar on the wall.
The role of Michael is played by Steve Cowley. There are moments when his character is charming, quirky and a little eccentric. The audience is in sympathy with him throughout the twists of the story. However there are moments when the authentic voice of the artist is quite lost – such as in the drunk scene.
Heather Davies plays the woman although the character is a mere child when she first meets Michael. Davies plays the range of ages and character traits convincingly and charms the audience into accepting the shifts demanded of her by the script.
The Life We Lived is a long, large work with only two actors, very little in the way of production values and a plethora of words. The programme mentions no director – the production really needs one.