Review: You’re dead and I’m eating Pic n’ Mix
A beautiful exploration of love and grief
I really didn’t know what to expect from this play. The title seems to promise comedy, but I had read online that it was about young love being destroyed by a tragic and untimely death. How could this play incorporate both into a convincing performance? By the end of the play I had my answer: superb acting, brilliant direction and a clever script.
The play has one on stage character, Steven (Freddy Legg), who has recently lost his boyfriend of three years, Charlie. We encounter him on the day of Charlie’s funeral, and watch as he navigates his own grieving process and his fractured relationships with his former lover’s dysfunctional family. Broad in its scope, the play grapples with heavy themes: the process of grief, understanding one’s sexuality and what it means to truly be in love. Yet, simultaneously, it is absolutely hilarious. Steven is a charming, and refreshingly ordinary character, who easily manages to get the entire playroom laughing with relatable and playful humour.
This play expertly weaves witty jokes and gags with surprisingly poignant moments into an oscillating web of comedy and tragedy. And that’s the beauty of Legg’s script. As a writer, Legg is aware that his audience is most vulnerable in moments of laughter, when he opens the floodgates to our intense emotions. In these very moments, his play packs its biggest punches. The humour suddenly veers away at the turn of a line, and, as the audience’s laughter subsides, we get a sharp reminder that we are watching a distraught twenty-something comprehend losing his first and only love.
As an actor, Legg is also outstanding. Alone, he commands the stage for over an hour in a truly captivating performance that exposes various shades of Steven. Seamlessly, he darts from anger to grief or charm, constructing a character that feels real. When Steven recounts his confrontation with Charlie’s mother near the end of the play, I got goose bumps. The audience could feel the intensity of his anger, searing inside him. Similarly, we felt the warmth of his love for Charlie. I remember my eyes welling when Steven recalled the first time Charlie said “I love you”, while they were on ski lift.
Interestingly, after this beautiful story, Steven immediately reverts back to humour, with the following remark: “here’s a tip: don’t tell someone I love you unless you can fuck in the next five minutes”, evoking a surge of laughter from the audience. This is characteristic of Steven; he won’t dwell in intense sadness, anger or nostalgic happiness. When he reaches a certain depth, he flicks back to the safety of humour.
Quite early on, I got a sense that Steven was suppressing his grief, and that it would culminate into something truly heart-wrenching to see. As I watched the drama unfold, I started to dread the ending. I didn’t know if I could handle watching this young man truly understand that he had lost the love of his life. I wasn’t wrong. I won’t spoil the details of the ending, but it was heart-breaking to watch Steven, who we grew to love over the course of an hour, crumple into such a state.
The production has very few props, a minimalistic set design and one actor. It’s a stripped back performance that feels raw. The director, Niall Conway, uses the intimate space of the corpus playroom cleverly to connect us to Steven. We feel involved in the drama when he speaks to us, a person he can confide in and trust with his most precious memories and deep sorrow. The sound and lighting, organised by the technical director, Daniel Dickens, plays a crucial role in the show, and is also brilliantly executed. Background music very subtlety seeps into the play, adding to its emotional intensity.
Steven’s exploration of his sexuality plays a large part in the performance. He drops in humorous lines about “psycho” gays in their late teens, who, having missed the chance to display romance in secondary school, take it way too far. He also addresses the more serious topics of sexuality and religion, as well as homophobia. Charlie’s mother introduces Steven as his “bestfriend”, a subtle, but important detail that reflects how homophobia often manifests itself in modern Britain: in the odd sly remark or microaggression.
These details helped the audience to believe Steven’s story. There was one moment, where Steven remembers a time Charlie nearly drowned and had to be resuscitated, that feels a little far-fetched and detaches the story from its grounding in reality. This moment is quite jarring and perhaps not even necessary in the otherwise well composed script.
The relationship of Charlie and Steven is so beautifully drawn out that I felt as though I wanted to fall in love while watching the play. Yet, then it reminded me of all the dangers and vulnerability entailed within such an intense relationship. I think that’s the beauty of this play; it simultaneously recognises the magic of constructing a loving relationship and the devastating process of having to let it go. A true tear jerker, I strongly recommend this play.