3 Stars

★★★ Therapist, heal thyself

Simon Ward reviews Let’s Pause There at The King’s Head Theatre

This debut play by comedy writers Russell Obeney and Andre Guindisson crams a lot, perhaps a little too much, into its running time of about an hour. In keeping with its therapy-based theme, we are required to dig deeper than may be comfortable, before we can emerge with a clearer understanding and a modicum of hope for the future. While it is frequently very funny, there is a dark undercurrent throughout, and some exceedingly grim avenues and detours are explored before the end.

Photo credit: Blackfish Productions

This is an understated tour de force by Roger Parkins as therapist Sebastian – he barely leaves the stage and is at the centre of the action throughout. He modulates effortlessly and expertly between the different aspects of his role. From the outset he addresses the audience directly and he takes us into his confidence about the challenges of his job. He then switches to empathetic therapist adept at reflecting and deflecting his clients’ problems before falling back to the role of frustrated boyfriend as his repeated calls to his girlfriend go unanswered. He even reveals a talent for mimicry, with a particularly memorable turn as Woody Allen thrown in. I also couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for him having to wear the obligatory comforting, non-threatening therapist’s cardigan under the unforgiving King’s Head lights.

This is by no means a one-man show, however, as able support is provided by a cast of consisting of his latest clients, Summer (Kate Loustau) and Tunde (Chris Rochester), an obnoxious train passenger (James Marchant) and his ex-wife (Abigail Williams). As the story unfolds, and we come to learn more about each one, we are reminded that everyone has their reasons and even the worst behaviour can be explained if we dig deep enough. However, there remains a nagging sense of caricature around some of the characters – Seb’s ex-wife, Roberta, for example, provides many of the play’s funniest moments but we don’t really get to know her beyond her brash exterior; and the explanation offered for Barry’s boorish and grotesque behaviour is perhaps a little glib and under-explored.

Photo credit: Blackfish Productions

All that said, the writers are clearly very well versed in the language and practice of therapy as well as in the hard-nosed commercial aspect – this is all rendered in an utterly convincing way, right up indeed to the climactic payoff gag. The audience I suspect will also feel some sympathy with Roberta’s determined resistance to Seb’s constant ‘therapising’ of every encounter. The interspersed fantasy musical sequences (sound design by Elijah Miller) give us some glimpses of Seb’s own inner life and perhaps of a brighter, livelier character lurking under the rather awkward, but soothing and buttoned-up therapist.

Ella Murdoch’s direction keeps the action moving at pace and inserts enough surprises to ensure that we are never bored by what could otherwise have been a rather static show. This is a funny and thought-provoking play, which might benefit from further development.

Let’s Pause There is playing at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington, London N1 1QN until Saturday 18th June.

Categories: 3 Stars, review

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