Antler are a bunch of creatives who love to play. Life is serious enough and why shouldn’t the theatre be fun?! The company specifies humour, playfulness and inventive theatricality as the leading forces in their collaboratively created shows.
I had a movement teacher called Ellie (bear with me), who was pretty much a guru in the practices of Jacques Lecoq. I mention this because Lecoq believed that a prerequisite of theatre was the spirit of play, and would encourage his students to possess a physical playfulness and childlike stance when creating theatre. It seems to me that much of Antler has a Lecoq-based ethos. They have already proved an enormous success on the fringe, but having not seen them before myself, I was curious to see how far they would push this sense of play. Therefore, I adopted the mantra: WWET (what would Ellie think).
Play is apparent from the offset, and begins spectacularly with Phillip (Nasi Voutsas) and his several attempts to record his answerphone message. With a few seconds to define yourself, this is a very important factor in life to get right; but when you are as uncertain of who are you as Phillip, this makes for a (hilariously) difficult task. By the end of the sequence I was ready to adopt poor Phillip with my first piece of advice being “USE THE VOICEMAIL LADY LIKE THE REST OF US!”
Through a tightly choreographed physical routine, we see Phillip fading into the background of the office advertising agency. He is part of the furniture – literally – and is sat on, a wallflower clutching a dying daffodil. As a warning, plants will be harmed in this piece. Daniela Pasquini and Daniel Foxsmith both multi-role as different characters in the office, which are observed with dry humour and make for cringeworthy, hilarious viewing. Much of this action has a mockumentary feel, and I was half expecting David Brent to pop up at any moment.
Foxsmith transforms into a life coach at the office conference and selects Phillip to sell himself – which of course he can not do. This, and a culmination of cruel treatment from other characters, causes Phillip to break down, which is actually very moving. Queue ‘Person’ (Merce Ribot), who is pre-planted in the audience and starts to impersonate Phillip in order to help him. However, when Phillip realises he wants his identity back, Person is not so willing to give it up. This forces him to pursue a bolder and stronger self; but in a sea of (life-size) cardboard cut-out Phillips, which will market him best and will we like the person he becomes?
The company prides themselves on surreal ways of showing ideas, but I’m afraid the plot started to lose me here as it becomes a little muddled. I enjoyed much of the slightly bonkers aspects and nearly getting hit with a tennis ball is a sure way to make sure the audience is paying attention. But overall it seems to lose pace, and though it is still enjoyable, the ending – a bizarre image of the cast amongst a tower of post-it notes and a dolphin balloon – seems to come quite abruptly and I’m sure what it resolves.
As an ensemble piece it works beautifully: all the performances complement each other and feel natural and understated. There is a sense of ownership where the collaborative process with director Jasmine Woodcock Steward evidently pays off, and I cannot imagine anyone else in the roles. Voutsas is excellent and Pasquini really impresses in both of her characters; the flamboyant Paola in particular is a real highlight and deserves her own sketch show.
The company have all the right ingredients for an amazing piece of playful theatre (big thumbs up from Ellie and me), but the development of the plot lets it down. Identity is really important and it would be a great feat if any of us could confess to being completely confident and self-assured in who we are, but I’m not sure if that resonates enough or whether they achieve a sense of this.
Though I did not leave wowed, I did come away thinking that Antler are pretty cool and I would very happily sit through another of their shows in the future. I wish them great success and can’t wait to see what they do next.
If I Were Me is playing at the Soho Theatre until 26 March. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.