Very rarely does a show have a perfect title but The Life and Times of Lionel is the only way to describe this wonderful piece of theatre. Forget About The Dog are a new company hailing from Leeds and to think that this is their first piece of professional theatre, makes me incredibly excited to see what they have in the pipeline.
The show takes us through an average day for Lionel (Joshua Ling) and his brain. From his morning routine, to his dull day at work we see the inner workings of how he goes about his life and deals with the interactions of those around him. A highlight of the play is Lionel’s interactions with the one special person in his life: Emily from floor 5. The dynamics between these two is one of the most realistic relationships I’ve seen on stage in a long while. Lionel’s awkwardness permeates through the room especially when a particularly hilarious interjection from his brain comes in the format of a ‘conversational blunder’. Cue, his brain’s ship and sailors issuing a red alert and navigating him through this painful encounter, yet sadly ending in the captain going down with the ship – and the audience – in stiches.
Forget About the Dog’s intelligent use of puppetry is also on display, sharing similarities with another Leeds theatre company, Manic Chord. From a beautifully designed bird to a whole group hand glove puppet, the variety is enchanting and well executed. Their use of props to enhance his journey is also excellent and nothing felt unnecessary despite there being a lot of them.
What really struck me is the idea that Lionel, as passive as he is, is just used to these things happening to him. With his brain controlling him, and the other characters’ relationships shaping his day, Lionel isn’t in control of anything. The characters in his office, bar Emily, played by Leanne Stenson, are all huge and larger than life. This sometimes detracts from Ling as Lionel and at times it feels like the other characters are all too similar in their demeanours and attitudes. It perhaps would’ve been nice to see him react to a slightly tamer character to see another side of his brain and personality.
Jokes are delivered seamlessly and there wasn’t one that fell flat during the performance, demonstrating the writing to be of the highest quality. Lionel’s eventual downturn is handled with poignancy by Ling, and after such a heart-warming start, it manages to illicit a genuine emotional ending as you not only feel for Lionel with all that has happened to him but also for what is to come in his life. This is an intelligent and witty production from Forget About The Dog and shows a bright start for an incredibly promising company.
The Life and Times of Lionel is playing at Greenside, Nicolson Square until 13 August. For more information and tickets see the Greenside Venue website.