FOR all the superficial absurdism overlaying A Great Big Sigh, there is a serious message underneath it all. Namely, the overwhelming need for friendship in a world that can often be cruel to those who do not conform to type.
A production of embryonic theatre group Moose & Noodle Soup, the play starts with Walter (Riley Marinelli) and Tina (Maryhee Yoon) in a basement, tied up to chairs and gagged. It appears they have been kidnapped. It seems they do not know each other.
They soon learn they have 40 minutes to crack the code of a safe in the room which presumably will contain the key that gives them freedom. Failure will result in awful consequences – the room ‘goes’ they are told. All rather ominous.
Yet nothing is easy when it comes to Tina and Walter. While Tina is rational and calm, Walter is the opposite. He’s off the proverbial scale, unable to concentrate on anything for more than a matter of seconds. He’s easily distracted, diverted and socially inept. A classic case of Asperger’s.
As the couple seek to discover the safe’s four digit code, we find out more about their back stories. Both come from difficult backgrounds – Tina brought up by a mother who was regularly ‘finger blasted’ by men while Walter has been subject to domestic violence as his scarred (and tattooed) torso confirms.
We also begin to discover that the kidnapping is not quite as black and white as we first thought. The motive is underpinned by the need for friendship and love. It highlights the extremes some people will go to pursue these cherished goals. All rather sad – A Great Big Sad.
Yoon’s Tina is utterly convincing, a character underpinned by layers of kindness. But it’s Marinelli’s Walter that attracts all the laughs as he shuffles across the floor trying to escape from the chair he is tied to – and then goes off (his mind, that is) in a multitude of directions. He’s exhausting to watch. A victim of circumstance. For all the giggles, he’s a rather desperate character in need of lots of love and tenderness.
Although Moose & Noodle Soup’s mission is to create ‘hilarious theatre’ – very laudable – A Great Big Sigh is far more than 50 minutes of ‘ridiculous jokes’ and ‘delicious comedy’. It’s tinged with great sadness. Laugh, yes, but don’t forget to cry.
Yoon and Marinelli deserve great credit for forming Moose & Noodle Soup and for writing A Great Big Sigh. With enthusiastic direction from Eifion Ap Cadno, A Great Big Sigh is worth tasting. It transfers to The Hen & Chickens (Highbury, London) from September 4 to 8.