Thursday, 4 October 2012

'I Could’ve Been Better' at Bristol Old Vic

How can you not love a play that invites everyone in the audience to make and throw a paper aeroplane?

At the heart of the one-man show I Could’ve Been Better is gentle audience interaction. But don’t worry, it’s not the kind of toe-curling, sing-a-long participation of some shows, it’s simply a few discrete nods or murmurs from a selected few. But, as production company Idiot Child spells out in the programme, it is intended to keep the audience central to the work.

This one-hour show is the funny, thought-provoking and gentle tale of James (performed by co-writer Jimmy Whiteaker): a 30-year-old man who is stuck in a boring job as a railway announcer, but who livens the tedium up with almost Billy Liar-esque imagination. Interspersed with autobiographical stories about his unusual love life with the unseen Sue, James also harbours a lifelong desire to become a champion swimmer – a dream fuelled by his long-running pen pal friendship with Olympic gold medallist Duncan Goodhew.

If only it weren’t for his 11-year-old swimming pool nemesis, perhaps James would have been better at swimming? If only it weren’t for the school bullies, perhaps James would be something better than a railway announcer? If only…

I Could’ve Been Better is performed beautifully by Whiteaker, who completely convinces as luckless James. At times the structure seems a little clunky (for instance, I thought the relaxation technique segment went on too long before the punchlines started), but overall I Could’ve Been Better is a pleasure and a treat. The audience is left with the impression that Jimmy, co-writer and director Anna Harpin have really put their hearts and souls into this production, and the result is delightful.

The performance is in Bristol Old Vic’s Studio from October 3-6, and returns from October 9-13. Clickhere for more information and to buy tickets.

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