October 09, 2016

Choose Life, Choose a Job, Choose a Family, Choose This Little Life of Mine

Izzy (Kate Batter) and Jonesy (James Robinson) think back to happier times, photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
             Pick two: work, relationships, or self-care. Most of you will have seen variations of this work-life balance triangle graphic online. The career one is split between a job that pays well, is in a good location, or advances your career. The college one confronts you with whether or not you want good grades, enough sleep, or a social life. Again, you can only pick two. They might seem somewhat humorous or like melodramatic ultimatums, but for most of us, they’re decisions we face (and struggle to juggle) on a daily basis.

             That’s why the new musical from Michael Yale, This Little Life of Mine, at Park90 has tapped into something entirely human and relatable. Main characters Izzy (Kate Batter) and Jonesy (James Robinson) want it all – their own flat, their first child, and time not only for each other, but also for their friends.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner 
             They settle into a small flat, but that’s London for you. Jonesy comes home from work too tired for sex and lusting for a beer, but Izzy is raunchily positioned on the couch ready to pounce, because she’s “ovulating”. It’s a word I thought I would never hear in a song, but “Tick Tick Tocking” somehow pulls it off. That’s the genius of Charlie Round-Turner’s music. They’re propositioned by a married couple they’re friends with who turn out to be swingers. I am reminded of the “Expectations vs. Reality” scene in the film (500) Days of Summer, where the lyrics of Regina Spektor’s song “Hero” ring out: “No one’s got it all.” Pick two.

             It’s true; the course of true love never did run smooth. Although this quote first appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream hundreds of years ago, human nature at its heart is, in essence, predictable. There are ups and downs and when the audience laughs or falls silent during This Little Life of Mine, it’s because that theme, moment, or even a look, resonates with this little life of yours and mine.

Bartender and barista Raphael (Greg Barnett) keeps the alcohol flowing when Izzy and Jonesy's relationship is on the rocks, photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
             One such example is the exchange between Raphael (Greg Barnett), a barista, and Tina (Caroline Deverill), Izzy’s friend. It is in fact Barnett and Deverill who steal the whole show and garner the most chuckles. In a singsong Portuguese accent, Raphael chirpily introduces himself and runs through the expected and dreaded spiel that comes with ordering coffee, much to Tina’s impatience. “When you say you want small, do you mean tall?” What follows is the “Song of the Barista”, which Barnett delivers in a mock somber tone that only adds to its hilarity. When he sprays his cleaning product on the counter with utter determination and not even a quiver of a smile, it’s enough to send me into fits of giggles.

             That’s not to say that Batter and Robinson aren’t strong leads, but when pitted against Barnett and Deverill, who revolve five and four roles respectively, it’s difficult to compete. They are the comedic value, because the storyline involving Izzy and Jonesy is emotional. We watch their relationship slowly deteriorate after a traumatic experience only breeds distance and disconnect rather than the child they long for. The theatre accommodates 90 people and I was sitting in the front row, perched practically in their living room. This made me feel all the more invested in their relationship and all the more eager for it to work.

Jonesy seeks comfort in friend Tina (Caroline Deverill), photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner 
             However, life is not full of happy endings. Izzy sings, “When I dreamt of happy ever after, I didn’t really picture it with you” to Jonesy in “Hey Prince Charming” at the beginning of the musical. In the finale number, “My Life Story”, she sings, “In the film of my life, everything will be cinematic wonder and happy ever after, but that’s just movie make-believe.” Both songs highlight the pursuit of perfection, but perfection doesn’t exist. The sooner we come to realize that, the happier we will ultimately be. For a generation that expects to have it all, sometimes all we really need to aim to achieve is contentment with what we already have. This Little Life of Mine perfectly reminds us of just that.

             This Little Life of Mine is running at Park90 in Finsbury Park until 29 October. Book tickets here.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner