Inspector Sands – If That’s All There Is
Bristol Old Vic Studio
Reviewed by Elizabeth Pearson for theatrebristol.net
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A bride and groom sit alone at the top table at their wedding. She, wide-eyed and fidgety, looks increasingly on edge as her new husband gives a speech of appreciation for flowers and cake, toasts absent friends and thanks the audience for making this day so special. The tension is palpable and he is in mid-flow when – well, the unexpected happens.
This powerful and very funny first scene sets the tone for the rest of Inspector Sands ‘If That’s All There Is’. From the starting point of Frances’ (Lucinka Eisler) marriage to Daniel (Ben Lewis) we are taken back in time to an oppressively hot Summer and the bizarre events that precede the wedding. Daniel is beginning to wonder about his bride and enlists the help of a wonderfully bonkers therapist, (Giulia Innocenti) to help him unravel his fiancee’s strange behaviour. Frances meanwhile is caught up in work and wedding plans, plus the occasional noirish lunch-time liaisons. And a work experience girl (Innocenti) subjects members of the public to her questionnaire on fear and the modern world, whilst also obsessing with her boss.
The cast say the whole show is still in development and much of the dialogue was apparently improvised. Not that you would know. I hope someone was writing it all down last night, because it would be hard to find a sharper funnier script than this. But it’s not just in the dialogue. The play’s starting point was the Peggy Lee song ‘If that’s all there is’ and music and sound have a big role in the production. A dance scene between Frances and Daniel has the audience in stitches, and the physicality of the three actors is impressive. In one frantic on-stage costume change, Innocenti transforms before our eyes from therapist to work experience girl in 20 seconds, and shaves off as many years as she does. One of the show’s strengths is in the absurd and chaotic links between scenes – characters appearing inexplicably in scenes that don’t concern them, furniture moved as part of the plot.
But then this is an absurdist and chaotic show. There is plot – yes. But it leaves much to the interpretation of the audience. So while for me the show was about our own inability to know each other, whether that’s the person we’re about to marry, the boss we decide to tail at lunch, or the client who tells his therapist his deepest fears and problems, it could in a way, be about anything. It’s a comedy based on the idea of a thriller, a physical show that challenges the mind, a great night’s entertainment at the heart of which lies a tension produced by a long hot summer and a questionnaire about crime and fear in the modern world. The cast still want feedback on ‘If That’s All There Is’, and as one departing audience member said – don’t change too much, it’s brilliant as it is.