Review by Sam Waite
To be a lover of romcoms is to be a lover of classics, as the genre that bolstered the careers of the Meg Ryansand Reese Witherspoons of the world gradually fell out of fashion over the past two decades. A one-woman ode to romance, delusion, and twists we all ought to have seen coming, Georgie Grier’s Sunsets posits the humble romcom as not only a valid form of entertainment in our tech-addled, frequently unprecedented times, but as a way of life. The question of the audience’s love is much like their questions about Harry and Sally, Bridget and Mark, Kat and Patrick – will they, or won’t they?
Denver, uniquely-named and with a quirky, film-loving family, is the natural lead of a romcom, if only she weren’t born into the real world. She works in marketing, pulling together the kind of vague, hard to follow ad campaign that Kate Hudson would have convinced a 2004 audience was ground-breaking – and of course, this is where she runs into a childhood crush. In the convoluted fashion of the genre, their newly-adult relationship becomes the subject of a narrative podcast related to the ad campaign, and for a while it seems like she’s living the kind of life she dreamed of when watching her favourite actors live it on the family television.
Writer-performer Georgie Grier stages her piece as a live reading of the podcast – “There are no refunds,” she merrily chirps as the concept frequently goes awry. Her best friend and co-presenter, Cece, hasn’t been able to attend the performance so Denver is spread thinly across a variety of tasks. Grier is an absolute delight to watch, nailing the exaggerated awkwardness of her favourite heroines, and keeps the piece moving at a steady pace. The clarity of her increasing distress as the performance becomes too difficult to handle alone, and as darker undertones are revealed, is well-balanced against her boisterous, charming energy, almost as if a romcom character has actually entered the theatre and is unsure of what to do with their newfound depth.
The set is minimal, with a bench noted to be a fixture of the podcast centre-stage doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of setting. Armed only with a hot-pink microphone and a heart-shaped box of suggested talking points, the emptiness of the staging really highlights how alone and vulnerable Denver is on her fictional stage, and how well Grier’s performance is filling the space of the real one. The bareness of the stage was, at first, distracting in the largest of the Omnibus Theatre's spaces, but the emptiness was soon forgotten as the sheer amount of personality and talent on display took over.
Written as this loosely-scripted (and increasingly so) live podcast taping, the script takes its cues not only from the sometimes-ludicrous coincidences of romcoms, but also from the potential awkwardness of adding visual elements to an audio-focused medium. Once Denver has finished acting out the requisite “trying on clothes” montage, an oversized scarf acting as various articles of clothing, she notes some prior feedback that this sequence didn’t play particularly well to the listeners at home. A clear understanding of and respect for both art forms being satirised really helps to sell not only the character, but the twist that clues, once you know, are littered about throughout the play.
A potential risk of mining humour from a genre’s tropes is not really understanding the reasoning and appeal behind it, and thankfully Grier doesn’t fall into this trap. She knows why romcoms are so derided by some, but also understands their intrinsic appeal, and why they’re so beloved by so many. Likewise, her gags at the pitfalls of a podcast presenter creating a live experience come from a love of this newer form of storytelling and of understanding where things could go wrong. Without Cece there, Denver acts out a pairs dance routine solo, anxiously aware that listeners cannot see it and reminding the live audience that, once again, there are no refunds!
At the centre of all of this is Grier herself. With a finely tuned performance and a sometimes silly, sometimes sharp script about the nature of love, relationships, and realising that you can’t always see the twists in life coming, she had her audience in the palm of her hand. From having a front-row viewer act out a scene from love actually Love, Actually (cue-cards in hand and deliberately off-key vocals at play) to tripping over herself to cover for the fact that this fictional show was supposed to have two people, Grier keeps the piece not only moving, but alive and vibrant, believable as something actually happening.
With Sunsets, the audience get a comforting reminder of a beloved cinematic genre, and also a harsh reminder of the darker turns life can take and the events we won’t always predict. Well-structured and based around a brilliant, difficult-to-nail concept, Georgie Grier has shaped Sunsets into a compelling, tragic piece of work that delivers an emotional gut-punch to balance out the laughter she’s so fully earned.
Sunsets plays at the Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose from August 2nd to August 13th, and from August 15th to August 27th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
For tickets and information visit Sunsets | Theatre | Edinburgh Festival Fringe (edfringe.com)