by Laura Kressly
Nicholas is in pain. It is constant, all-consuming and prevents him from doing much of anything, and his parents don’t know how to help him. First he lives with his mum; then his dad and his wife and their newborn son, but the hurt is persistent, overwhelming and recognisable to those who have struggled with depression or poor mental health. This intelligent, young man’s agony is the pervasive focus of this well-made, family drama that, though formulaic and unsympathetic, captures the difficulties that ensue when mental illness has moved in.
When fourteen-year-old boy Red starts at a new school after his parents’ divorce, his mum anxiously worries about him making friends. Soon, his mobile is constantly buzzing with texts and he’s out most evenings. Mum’s happy but she only sees the life Red constructs especially for her. Someone, or rather something, else has the privilege of an uncensored view – Red’s mobile. As the vulnerable boy is sexually exploited by his unsatisfied maths teacher, his phone sees everything and narrates the story around the characters’ interactions. This slick ensemble piece by NY theatre company One Year Lease seamlessly merges writing styles, design and physical theatre to tell a dream-like story of abuse veiled as love.
When Red’s maths teacher confiscates his mobile and accidentally takes it home with her instead of her own phone, she begins a downward spiral of communication that quickly becomes personal. Red’s parents separation is far from pleasant, and his teacher’s boyfriend is an unemployed layabout, with vague dreams of designing apps. This combination fosters a relationship where the teacher and the student inappropriately confide in each other, and she does nothing to stop it.
Suspicion helps propel the action upwards towards a climactic end, but a lack of consequence in Kevin Armento’s resolution is as disturbing as the story itself. The phone as narrator is a great device – it’s present enough to add context and framing, but is not overused to the point of becoming a gimmick. Abstract movement incorporating versatile set pieces adds a striking, dynamic visual and a disconnect from reality appropriate to a forbidden relationship. A live musical score by Estelle Bajou enhances the surrealism of the staging.
Mathematical equations coldly explain how their illicit affair develops, and minimalist design in black and white juxtaposes the intricacies of the complex lives that collide so inappropriately. Though the script avoids blatant condemnation of the relationship, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a striking blend of visual and verbal storytelling.
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally runs through 28th August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.