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Californian Lives
The King's Head Theatre
5th May 2013

★★★☆☆

John Vernon, Roben Hoden and Carolyn Lyster

Photography © Arbery Productions

As America's most densely populated state, logic dictates that California is home to many different, interesting people. Martin Foreman imagines just three, completely unconnected to each other, and writes a monologue for each in his new piece, Californian Lives.

A few lines from Sinatra's rather melancholic I'll Never Be The Same introduces each piece, with Robin Holden kicking off Los Feliz. Holden takes on the role of a travelling salesman, relating how he met the woman of his dreams, after one failed marriage behind him. Typically macho, uncomfortably suited and booted, he sits in a cafe dissecting both the remainders of his meal and his love life.

With the theatre set up in thrust, director Emma King-Farlow initially positions Holden at the far end of the stage, but has him wander to the front every so often to pour himself a refill from the drinks counter there. It's a natural way of allowing the whole audience to see the actor up close and witness the intensity of his emotions. King-Farlow repeats the same trick for the other two monologues, which are set in different locations, but also use the full length of the stage similarly.

Breaking the production with two intervals allows the audience to regroup after each piece. The middle is perhaps the least hard-hitting, but John Vernon does his speech justice, and it has the honour of being the least predictable. He takes us away from the freeways and built up estates of California and into a gay bar propped up by ageing men.

The final monologue belongs to an old grandmother (Carolyn Lyster), addressing her first love, as she reminiscences about the ups and downs of their long marriage and it is the highlight of the production. It feels like the most personal story. The barfly in Vernon's Ben and Joe's talks of the impact a young stranger has on one of his friends, but the grandmother here is talking openly and honestly about her own heart, and furthermore the stage is reset as her own home. Little touches in the set design foreshadow her tale, which is another well-considered move from King-Farlow.

As the lights gradually dim throughout Sunset, Lyster reaches an emotional conclusion and rounds off the night on a powerful note.

Ultimately though, the three monologues are all about something and nothing. Their characters are linked only by geography, the universal theme of love and the bittersweet, All-American romanticism of Kerouac. The man in the diner, the man in the bar and the woman at home all hail from different walks of life, but this makes them no less and no more vulnerable to the same joys and heartaches. Martin Foreman's words certainly move us, but he doesn't cover any new ground. He writes beautifully, and we firmly believe if he came up with a fresh idea, he could pen something quite special, rather than quite good.

Californian Lives is an intense, emotionally-charged piece, which doesn't take us anywhere we haven't already been, but that does take us there with considerable style.

Californian Lives ran from 21st April to 26th May 2013 at the King's Head Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)



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