12 June 2023
THE SUICIDE (The Sainsbury Theatre, LAMDA) Review
I don’t know much about Erdman or his play; I’ve certainly never seen one staged. This play, however, written in 1928 but wasn’t staged until 1979, almost a decade after his death, as the play was banned in the Soviet Union. It is meant to be a piece of bitey satire about a young man down on his luck suddenly finding himself being manipulated and exploited by a range of savoury and not-so-savoury characters.
Suhayla El-Bushra adapted the play, setting it in contemporary England, and it was staged at the National Theatre in 2016. I vaguely recall seeing the write-up and reviews at the time and deciding I didn’t want to see it. Now it’s running at LAMDA with a cast of students. Same script directed by Oliver Dawe (not a student).
First and foremost, El-Bushra’s adaptation has left the play completely toothless. One must modernise carefully and shouldn’t rely on one character asking another whether she’d gotten him a Pepperami from the shops being sufficient to get a laugh from the audience. I am being generous here because the text is truly dreadful. It’s downright boring, and every character except for the protagonist is a complete and total caricature of a real person. That’s very different from having characters who talk a genuine game to hide their hidden agendas.
Dawe’s direction does little to improve things. With the running time advertised at 2.5 hours, it ran for almost 3 hours, and the audience felt every minute of it. Every actor was severely overacting, pulling faces at the audience, and generally playing to the crowd. Sorry, but this is meant to be a play, albeit a comedy, not a panto.
As for the student actors… A lot of them seem to have great potential, but they are hampered by bad writing and mediocre direction. There was a lot of cheering from the audience when certain actors came on stage, but, from hearing people talk in the intermission, that seemed to come from seeing their friends who’re nothing like such-and-such in real life be such-and-such on stage. Not good enough for a laugh in my book.
It’s worth calling out Alfayd Raji (who plays the main character, Sam) and Oliver John (who plays Patrick the journalist). Each delivered a very good performance, doubly so for John whose character had some cringy lines to get through. Zoe Zak would probably do well in a physical comedy (something like “Noises Off” perhaps?), but here there was a big disconnect between the character she was trying to portray and the lines she was stuck with.
A disappointing experience on balance. Someone should’ve picked a better play for the students…
Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£10.