Review by Rosie Holmes
Housed in the back of the pub for over 50 years, King’s Head Theatre is an intimate venue in Islington, currently home to a brand new piece Dare You Say Please, a Black Mirror-esque dark comedy written by Aimee Varani.
The play features just two characters, Maria and Oscar, and plays out in real time as the audience learn they have just one hour to make the ultimate decision: who will live and who will die? It soon becomes clear this is a procedure all citizens of this dystopian world undergo in order to control an overpopulated society. The play opens in awkward silence, as the two actors shuffle uncomfortably, hesitant to break the silence. It is this intensity that I expected to continue throughout the piece, but much of this tension was lost as the two strangers finally began to converse.
Nancy Farino creates a tender portrayal of Maria, sensitive and reserved but perhaps not all that likeable. Her expression of emotion at the end of the play is truly touching without being over the top, however, it did feel like this was missing throughout the rest of the piece. Leon Finnan in contrast plays the more brash and certainly louder, Oscar. Finnan is energetic as Oscar, using up a lot more physical space than the contrastingly nervous Maria. This is required to keep the piece visually interesting as minimal set design and absence of props means it was difficult to really immerse yourself in the life of both characters. Oscar certainly at points overshadows Maria, many of the conversations being led and dictated by Oscar, not allowing us to truly understand or get to know Maria, which detracts from the audience’s ability to emotionally connect with Maria.
The piece explores some often-debated philosophical topics. The premise of the play allowing for some extremely interesting conversations to happen. The pair discuss whether you can ever truly be a good person, karma, religion and the psychology of fight or flight. Perhaps most impactful is the line ‘do you honestly believe your life is worth more than mine?’ Whilst stimulating matters are covered, it feels as though there are too many points of conversation that are too quickly rushed through, rather than being truly explored, which had been more deeply covered could have made for a more thought-provoking piece.
What was lacking in this piece was intensity and emotion. There were certainly fleeting moments of feeling, but both characters appear oddly emotionless about the fact they are dealing with life and death. The writing certainly doesn’t convey the fact one of them is about to be killed by the other. Owen Crouch’s sound design is effective and does allow for some moments of intensity. Periodically, an announcement sounds alerting both the characters and audience to how long is left before the decision has to be made, creating a sense of urgency. I was also oddly satisfied about how accurate the timings were. Similarly, Adam King’s lighting, though simple is effective as the room turns red whilst these announcements sounds, creating further drama and urgency.
At times, Maria and Oscar talk about their lives and the system that led them to this decision of life and death. I did however leave wanting more, the idea of a society that forces its citizens aged 25 to choose to survive or kill is something I needed more of. I think this would have allowed the audience to connect more to the characters by being able to direct their hatred towards the system that led them here. Whilst, we hear briefly about it from Oscar’s experience as a guardian, it does feel like we required more to truly understand the horrific predicament they find themselves in.
Ultimately, Dare You Say Please presents an extremely interesting premise and allows for some interesting topics to be explored. However, I felt it was lacking in the intensity and emotion one would expect from a play of this nature, particularly in such an intimate space.
Dare You Say Please plays at the King's Head Theatre until 4th February. Tickets from https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/dare-you-say-please
Photos by Robin Kent