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Review: LIFE BEFORE THE LINE, The Cockpit Theatre

Review: LIFE BEFORE THE LINE, The Cockpit Theatre

Heartfelt but overly ambitious

Review: LIFE BEFORE THE LINE, The Cockpit Theatre Life Before the Line was first performed at university and the whiff of student theatre is still pungent. All the issues that typically characterise student writing are all present, leaving it coarse and unrefined. It still feels like a work in progress, admittedly nothing out of the ordinary for recently graduated writers, directors, and producers, still forging their creative voice.

It follows four students at a Jewish school who document their psychological turmoil whilst hiding under their desks during a terrorist alarm. Each has their moment in the spotlight to confess their teenage trauma as if the audience are their therapist.

There are good intentions but it's just too overly ambitious. Countless issues from religious intolerance to homosexuality to illness to relationships are crammed in, inevitably suffocating each other. Without much-needed breathing room, the characters are rendered inorganic and unbelieveable. One student, alarmingly nonchalantly, brushes off witnessing the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, which here feels questionably shoehorned in to hurry along the scruffy plot.

The writer's influences may be sliced and diced but it's easy to spot borrowed ideas from many a contemporary bildungsroman. It's a shame. Writer Amy Lever's own voice is present, but it's crowded out by pastiche rather than homage. Whilst its clearly inspired by the writer's own experience, you can tell which ideas and plot lines are imported from elsewhere.

Allister is easily the most dynamic of the four. He is the bad boy of the class whose chutzpah is a mask hiding grief and alienation. With a sly smile he flirts and banters with his girlfriend Esty like a Jewish James Dean. A rabbi without a cause. But the play's eagerness to lay bare emotional turmoil through a generous number of addresses to the audience saps him and the others of dramatic tension. Podgy dialogue plagued by one too many swampy trauma dumps prevent Life Before the Line from maintaining a solid grip on itself.

It's not helped by uninspired direction that doesn't understand the space. Most scenes are monotonously static and characters often stand in a clunky line when addressing each other. Many details serve as a constant reminder that this is not a professional show but a piece of student theatre through and through. Does that mean a critic ought to be more lenient? Yes and no. A new production of Sam Steiner's much-adored Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is about to open on the West End which was written when the writer was still at university. Make of that what you will.

Life Before the Line was performed at the Cockpit Theatre on January 29

Photo Credit: Benjamin Nicholson

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