views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Before Us
Soho Theatre
26th June 2015


Stuart Bowden

Photography supplied by the Soho Theatre

Having already seen The Pyramid Texts and Chef as part of the Soho Solo season, on some level, I guess had already formed an idea of what to expect in Stuart Bowden's monologue Before Us. It took less than five seconds for Bowden to make me reject all those notions and to witness something completely different. Like the other one-person shows, it's a monologue and it's very good. That's where the similarities largely end. This is a piece of interactive storytelling with music, singing, holding hands and considering what it feels like to be the last one standing of all time.

Bowden plays an unnamed female creature, who lives under a rock in a forest. He wears what looks like a cross between a lime green tent and an anorak, with matching thick green socks. He also sports a luxuriant hipster beard and obligatorily matching hipster glasses, all deliberately ridiculous and at odds with the character he's meant to portray. There's a small clue in Bowden's dress as to what is to follow: it's daft, it's funny and just when you think you have it worked out, he subverts it all.

When the show first starts, you get the distinct impression that Bowden is merely winging it and he hasn't bothered to come up with much material. Bowden confidently struts around on stage, tunefully wails, repeats sentences and I'll be honest, flops around like my ex when he's had too much to drink and inexplicably thinks he's king of the world. However, Bowden quickly blindsides us, telling us a story - the creature's story - moving from 'stuff what I did today' to deeper more poignant themes; reflections on identity, on love and on loss. She's the last of her kind - she can still remember her parents fondly and with clarity, and desperately misses them. Her explanation of what happened is simple and brief, yet the more you think about it, the more horrific their end sounds. It's perhaps a quick nod to global warming, but the focus is not on how they died just that they did. The creature is now utterly alone - no one else out there looks like her, breathes like her, feels like her - and that realisation really rattles us, chilling us at our core.

Some performers have backing tracks, Bowden? He creates his own, there and then. With the aid of a keyboard, banjo ukulele and some impressive vocals which span a range of low to Bee Gee, he records short sequences on a loop and layers them with more and more until what's being played back is a strange and beautiful symphony. Again, it feels improvised however don't let that fool you, it's been rehearsed to perfection. Bowden's melodies and lyrics are both very simple, but this makes them catchy and that's especially important when you want the audience to join in. Oh yes, this is a show with participation. Nothing too cringey, I promise you, but no matter where you sit, you'll have to get involved. When the time comes, you honestly won't mind.

In his opening dialogue, Bowden smugly declares that he's going to put on "the best performance that you'll ever see - the story that will complete your life". He has enough charm and swagger to write his own press, but I don't suppose he'll mind me agreeing that Before Us is a joyfully irreverent look at the big themes that impact on all of us delivered by a whimsical and deeply endearing storyteller. There is no fourth wall, and this means it's "one of those" shows, but if you come to see Before Us with an open mind, you'll leave with the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing that for one moment, you and a room full of strangers connected in a way none of you anticipated you ever would.

Before Us ran from 23rd June to 4th July 2015 at the Soho Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts