views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis
The Phoenix Artist Club
30th July 2014

★★★☆☆

James Craze as Frank

Photography supplied by End of the Line Theatre

If like Matt Hales, you've ever been Tongue-Tied, you should be able to empathise with Frank (James Craze). When he unexpectedly meets the woman of his dreams, it's all he can do to point and ask her to pour him a cup of tea. There are no grand gestures, no heartfelt speeches, just muttering as his soulmate quite literally sails off into the sunset without him.

Following the loss of his mother, Frank has retreated from family life, screening calls from his sister (Leila Ayad) and hiding away in a pokey flat in Sidcup with best friend Bailey (Alex Jordan). Frank has dropped out of his dream degree and with both friends sharing little prospect of hitting the big time via traditional routes, Bailey has struck upon the idea of becoming a drug dealer. The speed at which Frank becomes involved with a murky underworld almost puts us in mind of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em; everything that happens to him is accidental and stupid and yet you can see how it could have happened. But only to a man called Frank.

Frank is our everyman and our narrator. This is his story. But he's a flawed man who makes some terrible choices. One day, he meets Chelsea (Sara Huxley), who is sexy, sultry, confident, completely out of his league and everything that Frank should want in a girlfriend. After hooking up with Chels they start dating, but the problem is, he just doesn't love her and this comes to a head when he runs into Phoebe (Chloe Levis) and falls head over heels at first sight. He's a man who had nothing, now has everything and can't find any happiness in that.

Initially, some of the chavy jokes make us think of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and comparisons to anything off BBC 3 have a limited compliment to them. As a comedy, it's rather tame, rather pleasant - it's enjoyable to watch, but not ground-breaking. But when the cheaper jokes fall away and we get to the real heart of the story, there is some more considered writing with plenty of tender moments and a real poignancy, especially towards the end.

Huxley and Craze in particular show a vulnerability to their characters which we didn't perhaps initially realise was there below the surface. Playwright Jim English writes his characters beautifully, rounding their personalities out and making them imperfect individuals we can recognise and like. Director David Zoob blurs the action between real life and fantasy, and keeps the pace constant through the 80 minutes.

Forget the cracks about onesies and Mandy Moore, The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis is actually a meaningful tale of wasted opportunities and how life can pass right past you without you even realising it. Despite Frank's inability to get any words out, English pens some deeply eloquent and touching work. This play will make you gently chuckle and then once it has your attention, it will draw you into something far more complex and hopefully inspire you to be a bit braver.

The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis ran from 28th to 2nd August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe.

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



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