Live a Little
Writer: Paul Gilchrist
Kings Cross Theatre
April 19-22, 2021
Monologues work well in an intimate space, and the small King Street Theatre Popupsairs venue works well for Sylvia Marie Keays in Paul Gilchrist’s Live a Little. As Tilly, a young woman who has an uneasy relationship with herself, with others and with the truth, Keays is by turns insouciant, witty and distraught.
On our first introduction to Tilly she challenges us to disapprove of her – guzzling chocolates, flopping into an armchair in her weekend attire of pyjamas, hair in a mess – and telling us about her menial job in a marketing firm. No one is proof against her barbed wit. She makes fun of her sister Sara’s job as a drug and alcohol counsellor, of her sister’s lawyer husband, their marital relationship and especially of Sara’s concern for her. She despises the marketing industry for its lack of integrity and her boss Simon’s talent for turning banal products into “consolations”.
Promoted, the self-hating Tilly switches sides, converted, it seems, to Simon’s dishonest marketing techniques and eventually becoming his lover. We watch her as she describes her conversion – donning a suit jacket and high heels – with fascinated horror. How is it possible for her to become what she had formerly ridiculed with such clever phrases? It’s a measure of Keays’s ability to keep her audience’s confidence we don’t despise Tilly at this point.
The different places Tilly inhabits during her reminiscences – her home, the seaside, the office – are simply and evocatively suggested – an comfortable armchair, an uncomfortable looking stool and a swirl of shells, sand and driftwood. Of the three the seashore binds her narrative together. As a child she and her sister Sara went to the seaside in winter, all that her mother could afford, and when reluctantly forced out to walk on the beach Tilly discovered a small consolation in the beauty of seashells. She saved them in a box but lost track of it.
The seashore appears again as Tilly recounts with wide-eyed admiration, the story of 10-year-old Tilly Smith. Smith, remembering from a geography lesson that receding sea water signalled a tsunami, told her parents who alerted others and saved many lives. Our Tilly, unlike her namesake, forgot the lesson she had learned on that cold wintry beach – that consolation for loss can be found in nature, in beauty, in small things. She forgot it, and let herself be seduced by Simon’s version that consolation is to be found in products and lifestyle.
That is not how the story ends, so see it if possible. Sylvia is enchanting, authentic and so much Tilly, that it is almost a surprise that when her performance ends Sylvia Keays remerges to take the applause.
Many thanks to the Subtlenuance team for their continued sharing of what Paul Gilchrist calls “small stories”.