She’s Not There

Laurie Coldwell 15 March 2010

Corpus Christi Playroom – Wed 10th-Sat 13th March 2010


‘Written, directed and starring in’ is not a phrase that usually fills anyone with passion for theatre. It usually means an avalanche of esoteric, badly directed and self-indulgent smegma is going to come careering at you for, perhaps, upwards of an hour. Your brain may leak or you might start spitting at the half-way mark. If you know the person then perhaps, afterwards, you will rot your teeth with lies about how good it was to them, whilst simultaneously wishing it doesn’t encourage them to do anything like that ever again. If you don’t know them, you’ll just hate the person who did it to you. They wrote it, starred in it and directed it, so it was pretty much about how fantastic they were and they probably deserve the well-timed kick you feel inclined to give them. I don’t hate Patrick Garety and his play She’s Not There, but I may still kick him.

She’s Not There aims high. Smashing through typical Cambridge plays about freshers and finals and banter (eurgh), the play concerns itself with the life of Fra Filippo Lippi (played energetically by Toby Jones), a late middle ages/early renaissance painter. Sterling subject matter: Lippi was a womaniser, fantastic painter, abducted a nun to be his lover, got captured by pirates and generally had a more than interesting life. Garety’s production tries to cram all this into just one hour. It doesn’t quite fit.

Major plot twists are told in convoluted voiceovers whilst we watch the cast successively try to beat each others’ records for ‘slowest scene change’ and the scenes themselves are so vaguely sketched that the treatment of Lippi’s life seems flippant. The dialogue unfortunately doesn’t help the play by being dominated by philoso-lite musings delivered in cliches, or pseudo-Shakespearean sentences disrupted by lines akin to ‘you’re gagging for it, bitch’. That said, Garety throws us some brilliant one-liners like: ‘I was captured by pirates, you know. Look impressed’. And when not reflecting on existence, exchanges between characters rattle along nicely. Nevertheless, the play’s brevity makes it very hard to follow what exactly is happening on stage, with events like Lippi’s death at the end of the play abrupt and confusing and Lippi’s lust for women jumps far too quickly to near-rape.

The cast do well to paper over Garety’s cracks and Jones’ Lippi, whilst rape-happy, is often surprisingly charming and watchable. Olivia Crellin’s Lucrezia is a beautifully subtle and nuanced contrast to the bounding Jones and the pair are sometimes able to transcend the words given to them. Deli Segal’s prostitute Cordelia also deserves a mention for her charged sexual assault on the Corpus Christi Playroom, but the remaining cast are often imprisoned in the script’s weaknesses, including Garety’s (most-powerful-man-in-the-world) Cosimo de Medici of Florence.

The thing is, it could have been so much better. From Tom de Freston’s visually arresting artwork to the sparse but suggestive set through to the concept of the play itself, it felt like it should have been better than it was. The play exhibits some nice ideas, as does the direction. It goes to the places Cambridge drama should be exploring, yet it feels unfocussed – this is the sketch and the brushstrokes have yet to be added. And to that, we must look to Garety himself. Writing it, starring in it and directing it, much of this play depends on him. Except, he’s not quite there. A quick look at Camdram reveals a busy – and successful – theatre year for him; consequently, this smacks of something that needed more of Garety’s sought-after time than he was able to give it. By all means, please go see it: it’s interesting and plays like this deserve encouragement. I meanwhile, shall be waiting for a well-timed kick to land on Garety for missing out on – what should have been – one of the theatre highlights of the year.

Laurie Coldwell