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The Co-Op

by on 14 June 2021

Cracking Clever Theatre

The Co-Op

by Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Felix Grainger

Make it Beautiful Theatre Company, OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 12th June

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“I have of late … lost all my mirth,” says Hamlet, and then goes on to describe a world under “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” before moving into the “what a piece of work is a man …” bit.  Without much contriving you can connect the Prince of Denmark’s musings to our current situation, particularly where it relates to the performing arts and the long, ‘resting’ period anyone in the performing arts has been subjected to over the last year. 

Make it Beautiful Theatre Company, however, rather than let the grass grow, has devised a clever and witty short play about three actors setting up their own agency to represent themselves in a world where finding work is difficult enough without the small matter of a global pandemic.  Jimmy (Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson) and Cazza (Cara Steele) are the two remaining founders of the agency after Jimmy’s recently departed friend Tom was given a part in Silent Witness and moved on to what might unkindly be called the real world.  Jimmy funds the business while drinking quite a lot.  Cazza, never having had anything to rely on but herself, is forming probably quite an unhealthy dependency on Jimmy.  Into this mix comes new client cum business partner Charlie (Felix Grainger) bouncing with hope and positive vibes.

What sounds like it might then turn into a succession of failed auditions, miscastings and generally hilarious but predictable ‘antics’, is in fact a great deal more than that.  There are re-enactments of scenes from Star Wars and Pulp Fiction to name but two, and there are flashes back into the lives of the three characters, fleshing out their history and providing the audience with a grim view of survival (never mind success) in the competitive world of professional performance.  No-one is treading “softly” on the dreams of these three.  There is also a vague threat from the unknown occupiers of the next door office which is brilliantly unsettling and reminded me of the gradual, sinister undoing of Doris and Doreen in Alan Bennett’s Office Suite.  Humour prevails though and the whole thing rattles along briskly, peppered with the necessary lines to keep the laughter coming (I’m particularly keen on the concept of an Alice in Wonderland set in Peckham amongst other things), and the darkness just about at bay. 

The action is served well by the set – a cheap, scruffy office – with minimal movement of furniture required to change scenes, and the occasional pop tune soundtrack kept up the pace.

No director was credited for this production and it faired pretty well without, though it might have benefited from a small increase in focus on Charlie.  His relationship with his actress mother and his politely anguished, poetic cry for help make him probably the most relatable of the three and something of a ‘way in’ for some audiences. 

Written by Felix Grainger and Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and produced by Camille Koosyial, at just under an hour this is a sharply observed, enjoyable piece.  Cara Steele’s panicky energy as Cazza, together with Felix Grainger’s warmth and optimism as Charlie made a balanced trio with the charismatic, flawed Jimmy.  The Co-Op is described as being “a love letter to theatre and film” and it was Jimmy, while clinging to the last scrap of hope as the lights go out, who sparked another film reference, the eponymous Withnail in Bruce Robinson’s 1987 film, as he parted company with Paul McGann’s “I”, marking the occasion with the “what a piece of work is a man …” speech, which I think is where I came in. 

This is cracking, clever theatre, funny, poignant and highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis, June 2021

Photography by Giacomo Giannelli

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