A brave comedy with glimpses of genuine compassion, Living A Little asks interesting and provocative questions but lacks directorial finesse.
Zombies aren’t the focus of this apocalypse-themed absurdist comedy. Living, breathing people are – humanities, impulses and imperfections intact. The writing behind Living A Little is all the better for that: a surprisingly discerning and insightful look at the moral implications of a (for now, ‘safe’) minority in a rapidly depleting world.
Put like that, the plot obviously works on an allegorical level: an interesting exploration of our relationship with climate change. And, although I only realised halfway through that the staggeringly impressive ‘fantasy jungle’ set probably belonged to an entirely different production with an earlier time slot, the immersive environment (consisting of truckloads and truckloads of green vegetation) only adds weight to the possibility the production is commenting on something far closer to home than zombie invasions. Anyway, enough of finding meaning where there likely wasn’t intended to be any.
The setup’s familiar territory. With significant parallels to Ridley’s Pitchfork Disney, the two protagonists have shut themselves away from a world which is crumbling (unexplained, other than a contagious one-word-uttering-zombie virus). Larger-than-life characters (chalk-and-cheese in terms of appearance and mannerisms), Rob and Paul demonstrate an interestingly nuanced and believable kind of friendship. When Penelope, a lost-soul with a painful past, invades their ‘safe space’, she (like Ridley’s ‘Cosmo Disney’) serves as a means for Rob and Paul to evaluate the extent that they are, and should, ‘live a little’ when the likelihood of a ‘tomorrow’ has become a bit of a gamble.
The jokes come thick and fast during the first 30 minutes, some (understandably) landing better than others. I’m not entirely sure how comfortable I am about the characterisation of Paul (in the words of the show’s blurb, ‘the gayest straight man ever’). I appreciate it’s all meant to be light-hearted (until the end, anyway), but the bulk of his gags – directly drawing on his camp ostentatiousness as the source of the humour (‘I’ve got a hair dryer and hair straighteners in my room, babe’) – feel a little bit backwards in a world where it’s not particularly cool to perpetuate stereotypes. The camp mannerisms are often the butt of the joke, rather than catalysts of them, and that doesn’t sit entirely OK with me. Nevertheless, the character’s perfectly-timed Coke explosion is a comic highlight and Paul Thirkell does a decent job of portraying a character with the clunkiest lines and least-developed backstory.
The performances are consistently confident and engaging, but sometimes lack subtly and variation. Pearl Appleby shines as Penelope, portraying both vulnerability and occasional menace with an impressive stage presence, and Finlay Bain lands his jokes particularly successfully and is responsible for the loudest laughs of the night. Unsurprising, perhaps, considering he wrote them.
My criticism of the lack of variation is aimed more at the direction than the performers. On a really basic level, there was too much shouting. It grates after a while, particularly in the small confines of the King’s Head, and there’s no need for it. Often, I felt lines actually got missed (and gags were dampened) due to the sheer volume the characters were belting them at. More shade, and more careful selection about what is really necessary to be bellowed, would (in my opinion) lead to those instances being far more effective. It sounds like a small thing, but it fast became an annoyance.
Overall, as a piece of writing, Living A Little is ambitious, intelligent and an interesting, refreshing spin on a slightly trite genre (#zombies). This production – which picked up great acclaim at Vault Festival and is now at the King’s Head for a short run – is sparky, full of energy, often funny and occasionally hilarious. With less of the cheap gags around effeminate stereotypes (the writer demonstrates he’s capable of way funnier gags than those anyway), and less yelling from the male characters in particular, this zombie comedy certainly gets my vote.