In an almost unbearably hot theatre Annie Cheung is an unwavering ball of energy, never lagging or becoming fatigued. Tenderly co directed by Cheung and Julianne Mullen-Williams this dark, autobiographical piece of theatre is brutally honest, extremely relatable and full of humour.
Cheung uses just two plastic chairs, a string of lights and some grey and white balls as props. She is trapped in an undescript place, talking to what might be her conscious, her nagging self-doubt or anything else the audience might project onto the situation. In this self – revelatory performance Cheung explores moments of her past and current situation in a possible attempt overcome the feeling of inadequacy and hopeless.
Cheung addresses the powers that have trapped her in this room as well as the audience in direct address throughout. She discusses topics that most people would shy away from, her husband’s long-term affair, the real struggles of being an actress and the knowledge she was a mistake. Although Cheung addresses taboo subjects she does so with a wonderful sense of humour, the only thing to keep you going in such darkness.
Using her minimal props the balls turn into signs and the chair - completely believably – turns into her husband and a past lover. The rules built up by Cheung in this world are easily understood, a pocketed ball means a memory is released and a light change means she talks to Mr Stage or Mr Law Firm; personified versions of her real passion and her safe job choice, comically talked to as if they were two lovers. Mr Law Firm she knows is consistent, reliable and secure, Mr Stage however has women and men at his feet and will most probably never love her back, even if she is besotted with him.
Cheung bares her soul on the stage, not holding back any detail of herself. She will be developing this show even further after the run at Camden Fringe. This development will help to delve deeper into her memories, allow time to explore the ways in which this can be portrayed to the audience and rewrite dialogue. More ingenious use of the props would be welcomed, and I hope the process will allow Cheung to continue to give herself over to the play as she does beautifully at the moment. Ironically chided for it in a past workshop Cheung really plays with elements of the piece and the whole piece has a sense of fun throughout, even in the darkest moments.
Reviewer: Caroline James
Reviewed: 5th August 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★