Bunker Theatre, London – until 14 October 2019
What’s your go-to karaoke track? Mine is ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’, both the Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys parts natch, though it takes some doing to get the mike in my hand. But much as they’re easily derided, karaoke nights can offer moments of real insight into something of what our aspirational society has become, hardwired as they are into communities through their local pubs. And it is this rich seam of potential that Annie Jenkins mines with her new play Karaoke Play, directed superbly by Lucy Grace McCann.
A canny piece of programming at the Bunker Theatre sees this Sunday/Monday show take full advantage of Zoe Hurwitz’s exceptional, hyper-realistic set design for main show We Anchor in Hope. It helps that Karaoke Play is set in a hostelry too but more than that, the informality of the pub chair seating peels back another level of artifice to allow a directness that is sometimes startling. And as Jenkins’ play weaves together four interconnected monologues that edge towards the deeply confessional, this sense of being in your local conjures up something subtly magical.
Dipping in and out of each of these stories, Jenkins builds up a portrait of quiet devastation, of a society atomised by the very technology that is ostensibly bringing it together. Stalking a WhatsApp status may seem like the smallest of details but it speaks so much to contemporary loneliness and isolation, our fears of being ignored. On the flipside, our ability to consume as much as we want has a different kind of negative effect – whether porn, reality TV, sex, videos of terrorist acts, being numbed to its impact leaves us susceptible in ways we can barely understand.
Lucy Bromilow’s emotionally stunted Perri tugs severely at the heartstrings as her self-destructive behaviour circles in on itself; Philip Honeywell’s wild-eyed Darren is a terrifying microcosm of cockiness and confusion, hinting at how fertile beds for radicalisation can come from anywhere; and there’s real gentleness in Christopher Jenner-Cole’s trying-too-hard Linford (the waistcoat buttons!). Jackie Pulford’s Kelly is an astonishing performance though, simultaneous soaring heights of comedy and tragedy in a woman caught between dream and delusion. Powerful stuff all-round, now ‘what have I, what have I, what have I…’.