Suicide Letter Love Note is the debut comedy-drama of HeadShotInstantkill Productions, and is Writer/Director David Head’s first play; approach this performance with these provisos in mind, and you will probably get by with an adequately enjoyable evening.
Positioning itself as “a fresh, funny and irreverent look at the joys and agonies of first love, lost love, sex and comic books”, Suicide Letter Love Note is an amusing portrayal of the blossoming and eventual disintegration of an extremely average teenage relationship – occasionally funny, yes, and generously irreverent, but it is anything but fresh. The play’s treatment of first love makes for breezy, entertaining viewing. However, it presents nothing new or revelatory in the slightest. Instead it is the self-referential sum of its influences – the theatrical equivalent of the twee, maudlin lovechild of (500) Days of Summer and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, siphoned into a “banter”-laden blender with just about every teen television drama in existence.
This isn’t to say Suicide Letter Love Note lacks charm. Head’s punch-line driven script occasionally delivers moments of emotional resonance and snare-drum zingers, although the most laughs were elicited through rather easy jokes centred on pornography or masturbation. Protagonist and comic book enthusiast Jack is driven to despair and suicidal impulse by his lingering infatuation for the attractive, snarky Susan. As Susan points out ad nauseum, Jack is chronically uncool for being a Green Hornet enthusiast and, as it seems, wittering neurotically whilst delivering her an embarrassing excess of heart-shaped balloons. He is also an insufferable sap who demonstrates little by way of depth or conviction to evoke any genuine audience sympathy.
Perhaps that is Head’s intent – to present a snapshot study of male adolescent ennui in all of its regressive, insular antipathy. Jack merely comes out as irritating and one-dimensional, and it is difficult to fully identify with his choices; it is a disengaged and resigned stupidity, rather than romantic nihilism, which seems to drive his impulses.
Steffan Griffiths starts off on a rather forced note, although he manages to ease himself into a more candid and convincing portrayal by the end. Elizabeth Clayden as the harried, haughty Susan imbues her object-of-affection-role with a conflicted tenderness and convincing maturity from teenager to adult, suggesting that rather than the idealised cipher on which Jack pins his contentment, there might be much more complexity to her character.
There are occasional moments of clarity and perception in the otherwise trite boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl script, such as the partially dealt with theme of reconciling unresolved and unimagined ambitions with the inexorable practicalities of life. Had Head focused more on such gray areas of subtlety in both his script and direction, emphasising the bittersweet more than the blatant (and therefore not underestimating the audience), Suicide Letter Love Note may have succeeded in sustaining more of an intellectual and emotional engagement. As it stands, jarring flourishes such as the comic-book screen interludes seem to clumsily support, rather than accompany, the hackneyed plot, demonstrating that there is much more room for growth and development in this promising, though ultimately lacking, production.
Suicide Letter Love Note is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 6 May. For more information and to book tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.