“Knock, knock – Who is there?”

Who would have thought that the new flatmate of Alice (Stephanie Lane) and Oli (James Burton) is someone who is always dressed in a tiger costume? This man, Tiger (Joe Corrigall), loves cheesecake, has a strange accent and is a ball of energy and cheeriness. Obviously, Alice and Oli’s lives are turned upside down. Nevertheless, he seems to re-order the pieces, which have fallen apart even before he entered the door of their flat.

Tiger is a new dark comedy written by Joe Eyre, directed by Will Maynard and produced by Beth Eyre and Frankie Parham. It is one part of the three productions by the company Joyous Gard at this year’s Vault Festival and follows in the footsteps of last year’s award-winning show Crocodile by Eyre.

After the loss of a loved person, everything changes around and within Alice. She is trapped in a black hole and not even Oli can guide her outside, despite how hard he tries. Tiger arrives at the right time and becomes her friend. His wit triggers the former comedian in Alice for punchlines when she faces dark matters. Their friendship resembles the lightness of childhood, an escapist relationship. Oli attempts to ground them both in reality again, but he comes across an outsider who does not understand their mind-sets. Although masks and silence protect them from the world, layers and words are revealed when one decides to let people in for support. A black hole is lonely, and cheesecake simply brightens the mood.

The set design (Clancy Flynn) is simple: the stage presents the flat of the three characters and occasionally other locations. The lights are kept in the primary colours and they merges to stress the basic atmosphere underlying the scenarios: coldness=blue, vitality=pink, seriousness=yellow. The interplay of music (Odinn Orn Hilmarsson) as soundtracks of the characters’ lives, reinforces the cinematic angle of Tiger within its simplicity. The movement direction of James Berkery triggers the transformation of the stage from kindergarten playground to yoga sessions to the presentation of the different flow of time experienced in Oli’s daily routine and Alice and Tiger’s stay in a black hole.

Tiger’s costume is a literary presentation of one’s mask from everyday life. Thus, it is an inventive approach to unmask the power of being someone else if life becomes too bleak and demanding. The mask’s possibility of escape captures the balancing act of the play, merging playfulness and comedy while thematising grief and acting as a survival kit from daily life. Without trying to lecture, Tiger’s speech about black holes is genuine and therefore, moving as it meets the right tone between therapy session and a visually transmitted autobiography.

Although the actors, especially Lane, show an authentic embodiment of the characters, the play sometimes moves too far into the sphere of slapstick humour. The use of the tiger costume, despite its brilliance as armour, reinforces the drift into overshadowing comedic stereotypes. Furthermore, Corrigall’s accent is difficult to understand in the beginning, which impedes sympathy and identification. Nevertheless, throughout the play both are achieved through Corrigall’s performance. Additionally, the climax scene is incongruous, concerning Tiger’s choice of cutlery on the rooftop and Alice’s knowledge of the other’s location.

Tiger confronts reality with a dreamland as a sanctuary to stress its interrelation in order to face and cope with grief and guilt. It visualises the necessity of time for this process, which also needs a reflection of the situation in another person. Eyre has created an innovative and important piece in times of groundlessness, which is echoed genuinely in Maynard’s production. Tiger captures life’s fragility and turns Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on black holes creatively into silver linings. This is worth going underground for everyone seeking a theatre evening that beats life’s darkest moments with comedy.

Tiger played at the Vault Festival until 18 February 2018

Photo: The Vaults, Waterloo