The Soft Subject (a love story), Edinburgh Festival Fringe

After growing up on Disney films, Chris’ aim in life is singular and simple: to live happily ever after. He thinks he achieves it when he meets Ryan as a newly qualified Drama teacher in Cambridge. For five happy years, the pair live a life akin to a fairytale. But as Chris discovers, not all fairytales end happily.

Chris Woodley’s autobiographical solo performance is, as he regularly reminds us, a love story. But not all love stories end happily, either. Sometimes they take us to the darkest parts of ourselves as part of the healing process and with luck, we emerge changed but enriched and stronger for it.  

It’s a welcome change from the saccharine fare that trademarks the genre, though there’s a double measure of sentimentality here. Fortunately, Woodley, who also performs the piece, endows the performance with a truth and conviction that significantly works to counteract this.

The use of physical comedy, witty one-liners and plenty of dancing adds variation and keeps the story from losing pace. Using a secondary school lesson plan format gives the script a handy structure, though it loses focus in the middle as Woodley incorporates too much information outside of his relationship – drama school, his job, therapy, and family work together to interfere with the primary narrative.  

Carefully selected, reoccurring props help support narrative continuity even in it’s baggier moments. Disney dolls are initially funny, then sad. Christmas decorations signpost passing time  and represent distinct milestones with Ryan. Dramaturgical devices and other characters serve the same function – emails between Chris and his Dad are used to particularly moving effect. 

Intimacy is this work’s strong point, and Woodley’s performance of his own story cannot be surpassed. With some textual focusing, this has the potential to be an even more powerful piece of theatre.

The Soft Subject (a love story) runs through 28 August.

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