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Struggling to make itself heard: Lend Me Your Ears at the Canal Cafe Theatre

Repost: with One Stop Arts closing, I migrated this review here.

Written by Victoria Grantham, there are some strong moments in Lend Me Your Ears. For starters, the play is both topical and timeless, in that it discusses Russell Brand being excorigated in the media for a verbal faux pas about sex. But it hovers at an awkward place between realism and absurdity which ultimately dulls the message. At Canal Cafe Theatre.

The story follows two couples: Jane (Victoria Grantham) and Luke (Andrew Bridge, doubling as Russell Brand), who are in a relationship of such long standing that it’s unclear how long they’ve been together, and Sophia (Nicole Ollivere) and Simon (Jack Kristiansen), who are just meeting for the first time. Jane Postlethwaite plays various bit parts, notably a reporter with stereotypical newsreader mannerisms and vocal emphasis.

Sophia and Simon have a real electricity between them. The physical moments of awkwardness they create during their initial meeting in person following a Skype chat are touching and funny. They build this into a clumsy dance of seduction back at his apartment.

Ollivere’s Sophia is sweet and clearly horny as hell, trying to play it down. Kristiansen is eminently watchable in a performance that has an ethereal menace. With the subtlest suggestion of a potential for violence hidden under a mannered charm, he first begs the question of whether Simon will turn out to be a creepy guy from the internet, then disarms us with a shy, attentive warmth before revealing that, yes indeed, he was a fetishist murderer all this time.

The scenes between Jane and Luke are not as compelling. As the story unfolds, they read in the newspaper that Russell Brand said he found women’s ears the sexiest parts of their bodies. Bridge reads this aloud, partly as Luke and partly in an imitation of Russell, which is variable but extremely funny when spot on.

The news has consequences for Jane and Luke’s own relationship but a large part of their role is to serve as surrogates for the audience in the model of Captain Hastings or Dr Watson: through them watching the news, we learn about the global effect of this sudden ear fetish mania. Children selling homemade videos of ear fetish porn on specialist websites, ear fetish pop music, ear fetish conversation at work…

All of this culminates in Postlethwaite’s news announcer gravely informing us that Sophia’s body was found earless in the Thames and, as a result of his ear-fetishist views, Russell Brand has been called upon to read a statement to the murderer, in which he reveals that the whole thing was just part of his comedy.

Since Jane and Luke’s role is to watch all of this on television, it’s difficult for their scenes to have the same urgency as those between Sophia and Simon. As a symbolic reflection of the picayune realities of how big news stories affect people’s lives who aren’t directly involved with them, the idea worked, but the central conflict of their plotline falls flat: they have a disagreement about sex, then she agrees to do what he wants. There isn’t enough of a psychological struggle before the ultimate capitulation, though it’s a fine line to walk. Too much resistance at first and it would be uncomfortable to watch their reconciliation, making a very different play.

With a multimedia bent, featuring a music video about ear fetishism, some rather disturbing homemade footage of ear fetish porn, and a real-time Skype chat, there are some inventive aspects to the staging. The music video doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a high point that adds much-needed levity. The actors struggle not to trip over furniture or on props stowed behind the main couch, taking the edge off some of the crispness which the show needs to sustain the momentum. Even at under an hour, the show labours to keep its energy up.

It would be remiss not to mention the fantastic ear bikini, or the fresh lobster that Luke uses to serenade Jane out of a bad mood before cooking it for dinner. Dare I note that the uncooked lobster prop is red, but real lobsters only turn red after they’ve been cooked and before this they are a sort of dark bluey/greeny/browny colour? Yes, because that lobster is a metonym for the flaws in the show: clever and unexpected, but poorly executed in the details.

Originally reviewed for One Stop Arts on 12 August 2013.