How (Not) To Live in Suburbia feels both timelessly personal and very much of the current zeitgeist. It follows Annie Siddons, the work’s author and main protagonist, on her life as a recently divorced mother of two. It is very much in the confessional vein, and brings to mind the BBC’s recent hit comedy show Fleabag, but in a way that is eye-wateringly open and moving, rather than uncomfortable or schmaltzy.
The subject matter is simple enough. Annie tells the story of suddenly finding herself relegated to the London suburbs after spending most of her life in the hubbub of the city itself, and how she reacted to the resultant insecurity and loneliness. She talks in a totally open way about her sex life, the guilt and uncertainty she feels over her children, and the career nosedive that accompanied the move out of the metropolis. This is extremely personal stuff, but fortunately never feels gratuitous.
This is powerful theatre already, but two things give it that extra edge. The first is Siddons herself. Her performance roves between the hilariously comic (impersonations of her agent) and aching despair (trips to the hospital over her daughter’s long term illness). But she pitches everything perfectly and, crucially, manages to convince the audience of her honesty.
The second element is the clever staging and mix of metaphorical apparitions, audio-visual explainers, and asides. A character in a walrus, emblematic of Annie’s loneliness, pops up from time to time, as does the Seal of Shame, which sort of speaks for itself.
Much of the action occurs as pre-recorded clips, which expands the show from a one woman confessional piece to something more edgy and arresting. The sequence of her fortieth birthday celebrations, when she is ditched by two friends and ends up getting riotously drunk, is particularly effective at conveying her experience of being in the world; which couldn’t have been achieved with a straightforward stage show.
As the play was ending, I was expecting redemption, or moment of clarity, where Annie realised the key to true happiness and peace of mind. And in a way, we did get this: Annie does reassess her priorities and does achieve some measure of peace with her difficulties and obstacles.
But, thankfully, the ending isn’t as tied up as all that – the show acknowledges there will still be struggles and moments of pain – which is a fitting ending to such an honest production.
How (Not) To Live in Suburbia played at the Soho Theatre until 18 February. For more information about Annie Siddons, see here.
Photo by Nicki Hobday