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Life with Oscar | Arcola Theatre

Life with Oscar is written and performed by Nick Cohen and directed by Cressida Brown. It follows the real life journey of filmmaker Nicholas (Nick) Cohen, as he enters the bizarre and chaotic world of Hollywood, desperately hoping to make a name for himself and win an Oscar. 

Referring to himself as a "Repo Baby" (similar to a Nepo baby, but a reprogrammed one wherein the child is moulded to achieve dreams where a parent could not), and growing up in the environment, Cohen finds himself equally burdened and motivated by his sheer determination to win an Oscar. 

Cohen has an unmissable charm and frantic energy which make for a brilliant show. His impersonations of various people, switching between the characters and accents effortlessly. Embodying a younger version of himself, he manages to fill the room with characters and bring the faraway world of Hollywood to the Arcola Theatre. Originally born and brought up in England, Cohen maintains the biting commentary, and strong language of the British combined with the more eclectic and brash mannerisms of America. 

Cohen is a star on stage, presenting his own struggles with a touch of humour, and creating a vivid world through his performance. Constantly on the move, Cohen delivers a whirlwind performance, allowing his ambition to propel him through a series of increasing complications. This includes a wonderfully choreographed (Jen Fletcher) movement of Cohen running on the spot, sweaty and shirtless, as he physically embodies the rat race to the top, being rejected by countless and nameless people. 

Based on his own experiences, the storytelling elements feel uncensored and beautifully raw and honest. Exposing Hollywood's secrets and ripping through the fancy curtains, Cohen's acquaintances are flawed characters who create a tense moral dilemma and result in a concerning and unpredictable series of events. In a full circle moment, Cohen's journey leads him to a life lesson that makes the finale quite moving and emotionally stirring. 

There are brief moments of audience interaction and involvement that Cohen navigates well, along with a few local references that provide amusing moments. The stage is quite minimal with a screen, projector, chair and pedestal/elevated open display mantel. An Oscar statue sits upon this mantel, both representing a goal that is just out of reach and a sense of superiority. The lighting work is well thought out, with blue hues for England and a warm yellow for LA. The intensity of the lights also reflect Cohen's mental state. The sound is more subtle but provides a nice background to the extended dialogue (Jon Quin). 

Cohen's performance, whilst engaging and energetic, unfortunately is weighed down by his choice to multirole too many characters. Though an accurate retelling of his life story, his emotional and personal journey is overshadowed by trying to develop the other characters. Whilst amusing, the time dedicated to the sickening truths of Hollywood executives could have been better spent learning more about Cohen and his dream project, which is frustratingly vague at times.

Life with Oscar is a deep end dive into the madness of Hollywood, bringing the audience to the brink of insanity but ensuring that the journey isn't harrowing. A particularly impressive exploration from an honest and lived in experience, Cohen shines both as a performer and a writer. Life with Oscar currently playing at the Arcola Theatre until the 20th of April. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by G Taylor


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