How (Not) to Live in Suburbia

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Annie Siddons, playwright turned performer, brings her Edinburgh Fringe hit show to the Soho Theatre. After splitting with her partner husband and moving, with her two young daughters to ‘Twickenham Home of Rugby’, she found her life going wrong. Her agent eased her off the books, her wonderful new boyfriend could not deal with Zone 5, her daughter became ill and none of her New Cross friends would visit.

The show is a funny and remarkably raw experience, achieving a difficult balance between entertainment and soul baring. Using a series of films directed by Richard DeDominici is comically home-made style, she recreated episode from her slide into Twickenham loneliness. This is funny to begin with – terrifying street parties to celebrate the birth of Prince George, a book club that threw her out for having intimidating opinions – then increasing dark. Siddons loses her way, and engages in a series of grim sexual encounters with strangers, accompanied by alarming illustrations. The Walrus of Loneliness barges through her front door, and accompanies her flatulently wherever she goes, blighting her life.

How (Not) to Live in Suburbia is not quite a one woman show. Siddons extracted herself from the depths of despair by volunteering with a loneliness helpline, but also through creative collaboration. The films feature a small cast, mostly wearing Walrus of Loneliness or Seal of Shame masks, and Nicki Hobday performs on stage with Annie, dramatising scenes from her story. The show is notable for Siddons originality of expression. Touches such as using two live trees to stand in for her (unnamed) daughters (they have shallow roots, hence her reluctance to leave Twickenham Home of Rugby for the promised land of New Cross) are both surreal and touching.

The tone jars only when Siddons and Hobday appear on stage together. Siddons is not an actor, and her performance is like a friend standing up to tell you a story. This is powerful, because it seems entirely real, but her lack of dramatic variation is shown up by the contrast with a professional actor. Nevertheless, this is a touching and clever piece that will remind audiences of Bryony Kimmings’ ‘Fake it Til You Make It’ in its honesty and budget, expressive staging. It highlights rarely discussed issues of isolation, essential understanding the urban society we are building for the future. And it is far more entertaining than a show about loneliness has any right to be.