Review: Sofa on the Mile

Alex Sorgo 16 February 2018

It usually isn’t a good thing when a play feels longer than it is, but Charlotte Cromie’s new tragicomedy “Sofa on the Mile” packs what seemed like two hours’ worth of laughter and pathos into a runtime of less than one.

The plot is, intentionally or not, taken from an old sitcom trope: 5 people (in this case, the director, producer and 3 actors of a mediocre Fringe show) who would all rather be somewhere else are forced to spend the night together due to unforeseen circumstances (in this case a large red sofa). Cromie adds a clever twist to this idea however by having it play out in a public place, with the characters conscious of an ‘audience’ of a sort. The idea that when you pretend to be someone else for a play, you lose a little of yourself is made all the more potent by the fact that even once the Fringe has finished, the actions of these characters still feel slightly performative.

The script is a good one. You start off with 5 thoroughly unlikable “thespy” stereotypes, which may cause some discomfort to any Cambridge actors who have fallen into the same behaviour: from Timmy (Emil Sands) who seemingly cannot go more than a minute without mentioning his roles in previous productions to Sam (Sophie Atherton) whose passive-aggression apparently knew no bounds. Over the course of an hour, however, they grow into well-defined characters with real personality, to the point where the moment when they finally get someone to shift the sofa off the road, you are almost as uplifted as them, and in the last moments of the whole play you are utterly heartbroken. You begin to realise that these people only engage in the fake drama of the Fringe, to disguise their own feelings of inadequacy, particularly well-told by the characters of Timmy and Freya (Lottie Elton). It is in many ways both a love and hate letter to the Edinburgh festival lifestyle.

Good as this material is, it relies on performers who can run the gamut of tragedy and comedy quite seamlessly, and for the most part this was done well by all the actors. Jamie Bisping gives a very huggable performance as lovelorn director Steven, whose relationship with Freya is probably the main talking point of the show. Whether or not they will end up together is a carrot dangled in front of the audience brilliantly by Cromie, who keeps us invested in the pair to the very end. Both Bisping and Elton excel in the quieter moments of the play, but their louder outbursts could have used a bit more energy.

This would also have improved some of the more obviously comedic scenes, in which characters talk over each other. Even the slightest of pauses can cause the dialogue to drag, and this happened a couple of times over the performance. These are minor nitpicks, however, as all the cast can be proud of performances which felt both entertaining and very sympathetic at the same time.

The minimalist set could be taken from a cash-strapped Edinburgh show, which is pleasingly self-referential. Some audience on the left could see the sofa in the wings before it was brought on stage, but since it is brought on stage fairly soon in the production this is not particularly distracting.

Overall this a very good piece of new writing, ably performed. The cast would benefit from perhaps a bit of polishing in the more comedic scenes and just more energy all round.