With absolutely no set, a solitary prop being a mug of tea, and on the dark stage of the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Stephanie (Elaine Fellows) takes us on a journey known as Decibels.
A rather short one, so it seems, as less than an hour after it began the three opening chords of that comedown of a song by The Cinematic Orchestra ring out and it is apparent that the play is over.
Decibels is written by Fellows, who is one half of new writing company, Scripts and Giggles. A one woman show, Decibels was created at Guildhall School (which Fellows attended) and was originally a 15-minute monologue. It’s now much longer, but still a monologue, more or less.
The play begins as Stephanie tells us her life story up until now. She’s 24, has “messed up”, and needs to move from London back home. She recalls harmless flirting and tales from school; university parties and nights out drinking; discovering MSN messenger and awful dates gone wrong – all rights of passage for young British women of my generation. I, perhaps wrongly, expected to see a Bridget Jones-style comedy with mishaps led by an ultimately loveable protagonist who finds her way in the end. Decibels does not provide this. It is instead a story set on a somewhat confusing timescale, performed with the only character confusingly referring to herself in the future tense, and crammed full of too many moral messages – including the importance of living life to the fullest, self-respect, reaching for your dreams and appreciating your parents.
Almost every issue a young woman may face is thrown into the mix, with little emphasis on one in particular. This makes the writing feel neither here nor there, and some of the lines a bit trite or vague (like the inside of a fortune cookie). And as Stephanie wanders around back and forth across the stage animatedly telling stories, I wonder why certain anecdotes were written in at all, and what purpose they served to the plot.
Occasionally, the writers get it perfectly right and are painfully accurate in their depiction of a certain type of person or situation a young woman might recognise. Like Stephanie’s Tinder date Nathan, who says interesting things but is somehow still utterly boring (we’ve all met one of those!). There are moments of clarity and clear observational comedy, but they’re nestled between lots of wishy-washy dialogue.
Fellows herself is engaging and likeable as Stephanie, and though she stumbles over lines (and at one point turns away to laugh at her own joke), she is still fun to watch. Her gags are well received and fall flat in equal measure.
Decibels feels mostly like rambling thoughts with a sudden and heavy ending. It is in places amusing and mostly enjoyable, but still felt as though it didn’t quite know where it stood.
Decibels played at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 2 March. For more information about Elaine fellows and her production, see here.