Author Hector Hugh Munro, otherwise known as Saki, is in WWI’s trenches. He and his men been out there for nearly a year, and they are long fed up with life on the front. To entertain his fellow troops, he tells the stories that have already made him a well-known writer. The Life of Saki mixes biography and fiction as Saki tells the audience about his life, interspersed with silly and bizarre anecdotes. The cast of six play both soldiers and the character’s in Saki’s stories with fantastic energy and physical commitment, but the structure of the play and Saki’s pontificating soon grows repetitive. An excessively long ending and too many stories ushers in eventual tedium despite a polished show with high production values.
Anna Lewis’ design is excellent; it clearly indicates the trenches and is flexible for the imagined worlds elsewhere. Costumes are WWI uniforms that fit the cast of women and men smartly – they are not frumpy, unaltered hire costumes. The puppets by Claire Roi Harvey and Suzi Battersby are also very good, with the cock being particularly charming with a great range of realistic movement.
The script is where it begins to fall flat a few stories in. Each one is very short, some only a few minutes long. There are about eight or ten altogether, and the constant shift from tale to tale is exhausting. The are performed with great physical comedy, accents and verge on the fantastical; each one is lovely but there are way too many. Episodes from Saki’s life are bland and dry filler, and the two styles feel forced to miserably cohabit in the same structure. The tacked-on conclusion preaches about how to live one’s life, then drags on even longer into a song and a poem. Though it blatantly states its message of living life to its fullest, the connection to the hour of stories preceding it is tenuous.
Three or four longer stories with depth and detail, and less of Saki’s biography (if any at all) would make this a much more engaging play. The premise of a soldier entertaining his troops is a fine one, but The Life of Saki comes across as self-centred and lecture-y with some silly, disconnected interludes.
The Life of Saki runs through 29th August.
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