Review: Before Us, Soho Theatre

I have died and been reborn in a single show. Stuart Bowden commands the stage, tackling us with a tear-jerking, hysterically inventive story accompanied by his trusting Casio keyboard and loop pedal. All while dressed in a green sack as an unknown species, who is the last of her kind. Yes, HER kind.

This comedy master has his style perfected. Premeditated moments, unsubtle repetition and the unexpected mention of a previous line leave us in hysterics from start to finish. As soon as one green sock sets foot onstage we are lurched into a story with no ordinary outlook on life but one of a nocturnal creature whose loneliness is heightened by her abnormalities.

Introducing herself by narrating the setting of the forest, while harmlessly poking fun at the technicians, theatre and audience for not looking like a forest, is a relatably witty idea and propels the audience into the madness that ensues. As with most fringe productions, the performer takes into account the necessity for a simplistic set but Bowden twists this to give him an edge.

As we descend further into the show Bowden’s cutting-edge wit and comedic timing compels us into his strangely tragic and oddly enchanting story. There is no question about what we will see in this show, we are told this is ‘the story that will complete your life’ both literally and metaphorically, but the addition of physical theatre, music and dance really does make this stand out from other fringe shows. Creating the music live on-stage allows Bowden to engage the audience in the momentum behind each change of scene and the different recollections and discoveries of her life, including some heart-warming songs that involve her dead parents where we see the true musician in Bowden shine.

The accurate imitation of musicians, playwrights and contemporary dancers is welcoming to the Soho audience, and the connection is only furthered by the party that she attends; note that Bowden has the best awkward party dance I have ever seen. This isn’t the only time we are honoured to see her physicality though, as behind the initially unspecified, curious creature the bizarrely appealing moves add to the wonder behind her story. With each movement Bowden attracts laughter advancing the delicate wonder of her unfolding death.

Reading this now you’d think that you are getting away with a rare fringe production without any audience interaction. Oh how you are wrong. Part of the hilarity of this show comes from the obscenely ungraceful but obligatory audience immersion. As a group, we bonded by holding hands, singing and even ending our lives together. We are aware that, while a planned show, Bowden exudes comedic purpose and even the unexpected audience actions, such as leaving the room, provides the impetus for uproarious moments.

Soho Theatre’s Solo Season continues to impress this reviewer. With Chef last week and Before Us this week, I feel that this venue is one to look out for with any show. But it is this one-man show that will leave you lying on the floor, dying from fits of laughter.

Before Us is playing at the Soho Theatre until 4 July. For tickets and more information, see the Soho Theatre website.

Ticket Offer: SohoSolo Season £10 tickets including Before Us. For details see here.