Roller Diner, Soho Theatre

The staff at this scuzzy, traditional American-style diner in Birmingham may not be best, but they’re happily set in their ways. Eddie, his daughter Chantal, her boyfriend PJ and part time waitress Jean are doing just fine…until Marika turns up and wants to change everything. It’s a trope that’s been used in stories throughout time – a mysterious foreign woman arrives and positively impacts her community whilst evading questions about her past. When the truth is revealed, she disappears, leaving the world irrevocably changed in her wake. Combined with snippets of original music, plenty of comedy and influenced by Rocky Horror, contemporary immigration politics, romcoms and a variety of other sources, Roller Diner is a wonderfully silly yet touching testament to the power of outsider’s fresh perspective.

The ever-watchable and endlessly elastic Lucy McCormick plays Marika. The first time I encountered McCormick’s work was on my first visit to Forest Fringe, where she performed an elderly, confused woman with peeling skin to audiences sitting in a cafe, waiting to go into a show. As she becomes increasingly agitated, she loses her skirt. She had no knickers on. As someone fairly new to live art at the time and not expecting a performance in that moment, finding her minge directly in front of me was most surprising. 

Since then, I’ve lauded her work in First Love is the Revolution (where she played a fox) and Triple Threat (her solo show ridiculing religion, gender politics and celebrity in which she’s anally fingered). Here she is an Eastern European immigrant desperately needing to escape her past and start over, and she uses every trick in the book to do that. Her singing, dancing and extraordinary transformative characterisation make a fierce, desperate woman that changes the course of history in the play’s little world. 

The rest of the cast are strong actor-musicians. Lucy Shorthouse’s cracking singing voice and sharp-as-nails Chantal is a fun example of girl power, but in a totally different way than Marika. Rickey Oakley paints a stereotypically naive young man who’s rather browbeaten by Chantal, but he too wows with his boyband-esque voice.

Stephen Jackson’s first professionally staged script certainly has its flaws – it’s messy and tries to pack in too many cultural references without looking at any of them with much depth, but there’s so much joy in his his storytelling that it’s hard to not be pulled into his bizarre world. The first half has more focus than the second, but the absurdity in the latter is enjoyable on a different level. There’s just enough of a political message to prevent it from being so fluffy that it floats away, but enough frivolity that it provides some much needed escapism from the real world for a couple of hours. 

Roller Diner isn’t the sort of work that I would normally enjoy, but having been emotionally ruined from Killology the night before, it was necessary. Absurd, camp slapstick with some socio-political commentary and great performances make this a fun evening.

Roller Diner runs through 24 June.

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