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The Existence Formula
The Hen and Chickens
14th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Existence Formula

Photography provided by The Juice Factory

Rather glibly I could tell you that the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42, but let's face it, that isn't an answer that gives anyone any comfort. We all have moments in our lives where we stop and wonder, what's the point? Is this all there is? And why? In Sarah Rickman's The Existence Formula, she explores these very human questions about identity in an engaging and frequently funny piece of drama that perhaps even gives us some new insights into the circle of life.

Nicola (Rickman), Graham (Tom Hamilton) and Suzie (Kristy Langley) lead separate existences until one day they have a chance interaction. They all have very different backgrounds, different views and hidden problems - Graham for example works for a wine merchant and has fallen into the stereotypical trap of liking the stock that little bit too much. You wouldn't guess to just look at him, but rarely do we wear our problems so openly. As well as getting to know these three characters, we follow a mother (Rickman) preparing to give birth. It's not all nappies and Mumsnet; what makes this so entertaining is listening to her twins (Langley and Hamilton) chatting to each other and commenting on their mum's behaviour. Although the twins couldn't remember before, they're actually old hands at this being born business and certainly a lot calmer acknowledgeable than their host.

PJ Stanley's direction is particularly inspired as the two twins face each other and eat and drink in sync with their mum, and as the male twin suddenly panics over childbirth. There's a genuine closeness in the sibling relationship that strongly comes through in Hamilton and Langley's interactions. However, as charming as the acting is, the action isn't steady throughout the production, with a full lulls that let it down.

Despite the simple set and clean transitions between scenes, The Existence Formula is a very prop-heavy show. The sides of the stage are littered with piles of seemingly random objects for the three performers to later pick up and this can be distracting. Whilst the nod to our social media obsession is not without its merits and is certainly executed with gusto by all three actors who keep up with Stanley's ever-demanding pace, it is responsible for much of the clutter, doesn't add a great deal and breaks up the narrative. In short, whilst fun, the pay off is not worth the considerable effort.

At times the story feels quite abstract and fragmented, which you generally expect and accept when musing on the meaning of it all. By axing the instagramming, this could give the script some extra coherence. As it stands, any residual confusion is neatly resolved in Rickman's conclusion when she gathers up all the different threads and knits them into something warm that gives us pause for thought. Reincarnation of course is not a new concept, however it's certainly fascinating to mull over what if we did all keep coming back and there was one brief (okay, nine-month long) period in which we had all the answers.

The Existence Formula doesn't offer us as sharp and snappy an answer as Mr Adams, but it does gives us the equation of The Juice Factory plus The Hen and Chickens equals worth seeing. Rickman raises some very interesting ideas that will stay with you.

The Existence Formula opened on 13th August and runs until 16th August 2017 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

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



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