Review: In Limbo
Image courtesy Tristan Bates Theatre
Sarah - Beatrice Hyde
James - Shaun Amos
Isla - Anna MacArthur
Beth - Catherine Boyle
I couldn't talk about it when I was alive, so why should I start now?
When James finds himself in Limbo after taking his own life, he is met by a therapist who helps him to confront his past.
Set in an imagined world, the pair revisit key moments of his life.
What brought him here? What has he left behind?
In Limbo explores the pressures we face in modern society in a relatable, touching and poignantly funny way.
Inspired by real experiences, it investigates how suicide has become the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK and the power of human connection.
Playing as part of this year's Camden Fringe, this short but admirably thoughtful piece from SevenArc Productions almost epitomises the nature of a large swathe of the work this rewarding annual festival often presents.
Simple design, enthusiastic and talented ensembles, delivering important and interesting concepts in punchy chunks, are often the order of the day in The Camden Fringe.
For this piece, SevenArc take on the enormously tragic and onerous subject of suicide.
It's not the first time I've seen this issue tackled in the theatre and I suspect it won't be the last.
In fact, it's the kind of subject that needs to be repeatedly examined in dramatic form because the general public need continual reminders that members of our human society are often driven - for disparate reasons - to take their own lives.
And we need to be acutely aware of how to spot the signs when someone needs help and support to overcome the struggles they are facing.
In In Limbo SevenArc commendably pick-up on some salient and relevant points.
First, young people, who may seem to have hugely promising lives in front of them, might be just as likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts as anyone else.
Intelligence and the potential life-success it might seem to offer is no bar to the onset of a mental state that sees no way out other than suicide.
The central character we focus on here is Shaun Amos's James, a young man with considerable potential having gained a scholarship to one of the world's top universities.
But his struggle to cope with the social and academic demands of his university life leads to failure and a subsequent decline in his mental well-being.
At the same time, the play rightly focuses on the everyday ordinary, rather than conjuring-up exceptional situations or extraordinary characters.
So, the people we meet could be easily our neighbours, relatives or friends.
In a sense, In Limbo is almost an autopsy of James's life, apparently carried out post-mortem.
In other words, what we're offered is a reflection of what happened to James in the run-up to his attempted suicide.
Stepping-out of real time, the dramatic vehicle for this is a kind of deus ex machina - in the guise of a character who seems part guide, part therapist - who allows us to review the past.
That device itself raises an important question about how much is needed to conduct an audience through a story.
The role of the guide/ therapist seemed at times both superfluous and a touch intrusive in terms of the underlying power of the storytelling.
Sometimes, it's more stimulating and intriguing to leave the audience to unravel what is happening - including how time changes - during the progress through a plot.
And I think this play might have been more conceptually tantalising without the intervention of a guide.
Ably played by Shaun Amos, James is a complex character who, though academically bright, finds social interactions awkward and difficult.
He's also haunted by the death of his father, and is obliged to take on the leading role in caring for his sister.
And when he finds himself back home without a job and any prospects, his state of mind takes a downward spiral.
All that certainly offers a sufficiency of believable realism for the matter in hand, but the piece as a whole never reaches the poignant intensity in the drama that the main issue suggests.
At the same time, the exact point at which James began to consider suicide seemed obscured, in part perhaps by the nature of the initial set-up where James appears as much in the dark as to what happened as the audience.
That seems an important omission - or one needing clarification - because there would seem to be a turning point when someone's depression and inability to cope morphs into something more dangerously destructive.
However, SevenArc deal with the central theme with suitable gravitas and sensitivity, and there's ample evidence that, with some astute adjustments, In Limbo could prove insightful and informative, as well as compelling drama.
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ActDrop listing for Tristan Bates Theatre
Our show listing for In Limbo
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