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Can I help you? (Susan Elkin reviews)

Can I Help You?
By Philip Osment. Presented by Playing On
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 05 Mar 2020
venue: Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common North Side, Clapham Town, London SW4 0QW
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)

Susan Aderin and Gabriel Vick. Photo: Bridie O’Sullivan

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The late Philip Osment’s last play is, as you’d expect, powerful, painful and poignant. Addressing some deeply difficult issues (Samaritans contact details are provided in the programme) the play is set on Beachy Head at night – with Max Pappenheim’s sound track providing the continuous, slightly threatening, rhythm of breaking waves.

Gabriel Vick is a policeman, Frances, covered in (someone else’s) blood at the end of a difficult day which has awakened dreadful memories of his own past. Just as he’s poised to jump Susan Aderin’s Fifi arrives – eccentric, funny, wise with a whole raft of unhappiness in her own life. Through the night they talk, eventually revealing their pasts and redeeming each other to such an extent that by morning when the sun rises (lighting: Ian Scott) there is definitely hope for both of them.

It’s imaginatively directed (Jim Pope) nicely nuanced acting as they fence around each other, he initially exasperated and she incredulous. There’s a lot of warmth there, though, as each slowly comes to understand the other. These actors spark effectively off each other and I admired the versatility of their frequent dips into other roles as they relive their troubled pasts – all done with nothing other than body language, accent and acting. There’s an especially striking moment when Fifi cuddles the “baby” she remembers – but it’s not the happy memory it should be.

Mental health problems are all around us and need to be taken very seriously – and drama is doing it’s utmost to support that. This is the second play addressing such issues I’ve seen in 48 hours. And if these explorations can a) raise awareness and empathy in those of us who are mentally healthy and b) help people who aren’t to understand that they’re not alone so that they can reach out for help – than that is a very good thing. I’d be the last person to suggest that drama has to have a purpose to justify it’s existence but it can be useful when it does.

This is an arresting piece of theatre, though, and well worth seeing for its own sake too.

Susan Aderin and Gabriel Vick. Photo: Bridie O’Sullivan

 
 First published by Sardines:http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Can%20I%20Help%20You?&reviewsID=3889
 
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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