Review: Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, Tabard Theatre

Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions is the maiden outing  from End of Moving Walkway, a newly formed production company founded by a group of students.

You tend to be inclined to expect many things from a play put on by a company of students; bad acting, wobbly sets, pretension to name a few. However I am ashamed that I made the assumption because that little preconception could not be more unfounded when it came to Oh, the Humanity. The show’s level of professionalism astounded me; I have seen much shoddier work from many more established companies.

Will Eno’s play is about… well, it’s about humanity really. I’m not just being flippant, honestly, this play is straight up about being alive. We are given snapshots into the lives  and minds of eight people. There’s the football coach (Jonathon Kemp) with a poetic soul, giving a press conference trying to explain a bad season. There’s the pair (Joseph Stevenson and Esme Patey-Ford) pouring their hearts out in what seems to be a recorded piece for a dating site. And the airline spokeswoman (Claire Lichie) struggling to express her sympathy for the families of victims of a crash, which is hilarious and at the same time deeply sad.

It’s really a collection of monologues and sometimes feels like five short plays instead. The beginning did remind me rather of a drama game, however, director Paul Lichtenstern does a good job of giving this production a sense of cohesion. Sometimes I found the almost exclusively monologic nature of this play slightly grating, but there is no doubt that the language is beautiful and the characters extremely well-crafted. All the characters are bearing their hearts, confessing the things which usually remain unsaid. Together they craft a tender and sympathetic vision of humanity.

As I said previously, the production standard of this show is impressive. Tom Mowat’s lighting is simple yet effective and the set design is a highly thoughtful and detailed delight. The standard of acting was, again, remarkably stronger than many a fringe show I have seen, my only small quip being  that some lines should have held more humour than what was achieved. Particularly good performances came from Clare Lichie, Philip Nightingale and Joseph Stevens. It is impressive that nine people can occupy a rather small stage without it ever feeling over-crowded, this being just one example of the skill of Lichtenstern’s direction.

One of the pledges of this new company,  End of Moving Walkway is to raise the standard of fringe theatre. This production certainly achieves that, definitely one to watch.

Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions is playing at Tabard Theatre until 20 September. For more information and tickets, see the Tabard Theatre website. Photo by George Linfield.