by Diana Miranda
“Today you can get rid of your fear”, Strangers Like Me Collective promises. As the audience arrives at Fears Eat Life, premiering at the Voila! Europe Festival, they find a sheet of paper on each seat inviting them to write down what they’re most afraid of and throw it on stage. And so, this interactive cabaret show, written and directed by Timna Krenn, begins before the lights go down. To throw one’s fears away to the power of theatrical catharsis seems meaningful enough, and the prospect of having performers enacting them back to us in a dark comedy improv seems like something to look forward to.
Sitting on a small, round table, a poised figure with their back to the audience stands out centre stage, at the end of a red carpet. Fear itself greets the audience with a cabaret number as a high-heeled master of ceremonies (Jeremy Chevillotte), flashing a pair of long, red eyelashes and gliding with haughty confidence around the stage under a pool of crimson light.
The performances take a while to warm up during the opening number, but through it all Fear acts as a magnetic centre. Fear’s tone is mocking yet warm, and they address the audience with the same condescending tone that they use to address Mary (Maeve Elmore), a frequent customer at Fear’s laboratory (although the feeling is more that of a life coaching clinic). Mary’s furrowed eyebrows and fidgeting movements bring comic anxiety to the show, although she falls a bit behind in the performance’s energy. Mary is addicted to her relationship with Fear and manages to convince them to stay around. That is, until she meets Leon (Fabrice-Edouard La Roche-Francoeur), whose vitality infuses the show with a ready-to-go flow. Leon’s performance is sparked with amusing gestures, like remembering a dreadful day at P.E. (Example of fear #1: volleyballs) and his anxious eating of crisps. His positivity, however, makes him a juicy prospect for Fear’s laboratory and inspires Mary to break free.
The musical numbers add flavour to the show, but their performances still lean towards the insipid. The actors seem to have a hard time synchronising with the music (Example of fear #2: turning up the speaker’s volume), and they refrain from belting it out. The show also gains flavour thanks to a section in French that aligns with Strangers Like Me Collective international perspective and brings delight to the audience as we watch a confused Mary oui-ing her way around it as she struggles to get Leon’s attention, despite Fear’s boycotting attempts.
It is up to the audience to decide who will win Leon over. Fear asks the public to vote by giving their most frightful screams to determine the show’s ending, but a momentary pause suggests that the audience is not quite there yet in terms of participation (Example of fear #3: breaking the silence in theatre). Krenn’s writing demonstrates research and reflection, infusing the MC with a confident grasp of what people are afraid of. Fear’s comic remarks land smoothly among the audience, who respond with giggles and playful whispering. Although the MC succeeds in connecting with the room, the overall interaction that the show promises seems to only go halfway, as we see the performers reading out some of the audience’s fears and dismissing them without further action. Also, during the final improv section, the thread gets tangled up in a way that makes the audience’s choice feel more like a disruption than a contribution. The actors are funny individually, but the interaction is bumpy as a trio.
Fear East Life offers an entertaining angle about confronting our fears. However, it leans towards comedy to the point that it fails to explore in depth the mental health issues related to fear that the play hints to. There’s still some brewing, but in a time when the pandemic has populated people’s thoughts with fear, there is value in a show that offers the opportunity to explore (and perhaps laugh away) what our inner MC has to say.
Fear Eats Life runs through 19 November.
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