Have you ever been in a relationship that’s going so well you start thinking about ways it could go wrong, even start thinking about how you’d feel if your partner died?
Freddy Legg takes that thought a step further in his new play, You’re dead and I’m eating Pic’n’Mix, imagining a world where the show’s narrator and protagonist, Steven, tries to come to terms with the death of his boyfriend Charlie over the course of Charlie’s funeral, interspersed with the stories of their relationship.
This is the ultimate tragicomedy, that begins with Steven explaining to us how Charlie dies in a freak incident that could have taken him – but didn’t. It’s a show that explores real grief and depth of feeling with humour, a subtle blend of sensitivity and total insensitivity, a consideration of the different values and comforts that religion can hold, and how well we really know the people most important to us in our lives.
We switch between the funeral and its aftermath in Charlie’s house with family and friends to flashback “stories” told into a microphone like individual stand-up sets, only… rather more bittersweet, that recollect key moments in the relationship. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried, multiple times, although twice was with laughter. Alright, I’m a little ashamed, but I just really miss Woolworths (and the eponymous pick’n’mix)… Fans of Mark Strong, do look out for the reference to the Young Vic’s A View from the Bridge at the end of the show.
Legg’s performance of his own writing, shaped and tweaked by the brilliant Niall Conway, is superb.
Talking for an hour onstage is hard whatever the situation, and talking about such a difficult subject matter, even when the recollections are hypothetical, is going to make it even trickier – but Legg sails through, with no moment lagging or lost. His control over the tone of each scene, both vocally and emotionally, is incredibly precise, keeping absolutely the right balance between comedy and tragedy to bring us through a play that is both a celebration and a mourning of a life.
Daniel Dickins’ lighting design was also entirely on the mark, perfectly enhancing the tension in some scenes and easing it in others, helping us move from Steven’s inner world in his stories about his relationship to the different areas of Charlie’s house in the aftermath of the funeral.
I suppose my one qualm would be that some of the stories of the relationship do seem a little unlikely – the first date resulting in Legg having to flex his lifeguarding knowledge in his writing as Steven comes close to having to resuscitate Charlie on the first date, the funeral punctuated by the attempts of Charlie’s supposedly grieving family to thwart Steven and undermine his whole relationship with Charlie – but, as Claudius says in Hamlet, when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. Often, when one thing goes wrong, it acts as a catalyst for everything else to start falling apart, which Legg captures really well throughout.
At the end of the day, as Steven says, life is tough and then you die.
But there are always silver linings, and, strangely, despite the play being set at a funeral, we still come away with a feeling that, actually, life does go on.