The Arc compromises of three parts, each one focusing on a different core theme with various characters - birth, marriage and death. Each section is written by a different playwright - birth is written by Amy Rosenthal, marriage is written by Alexis Zegerman and death is written by Ryan Craig. The entire show is directed by the talented Kayla Feldman.
A conversation about an incident that occurred over 50 years ago, elderly couple Michael (Nigel Planer) and Lynda (Caroline Gruber) are visited by Naomi (Dorothea Mayer-Bennett), to discuss the lasting effects that a small choice can make. Planer does a stunning job as Michael and stands out in the show. The relationship between Michael and his wife is sweet to see; a more simple, loving and domestic relationship. It was refreshing to see this as we often see more turbulent romantic relationships.
The show makes good use of local references, that helps bring the audience closer and into the show. Examples include a hilarious mis-pronunciation of 'Pret A Manger' and a comment on how tiring and busy the Piccadilly Station can be, both earning a good chuckle from the audience. This section explores the idea of birth trauma, midwifery and the leniency in healthcare. This is thoughtfully explored when Naomi launches into a rather passionate and emotional monologue about being “unfinished.” Whilst the speech does come a little out of nowhere, it works incredibly well to demonstrate the hurricane of emotions that she feels. Her raw honesty combined with her hesitancy is so poetic, and the audience can really connect and feel her pain. I genuinely fell in love with this script at that point.
‘Birth’ has it’s strongest moments in giving each of the three characters their own strong monologue.
Michael’s monologue is performed exceptionally well but makes snide digs at young people being "attached to the tides of the trauma." As a young person, I disagreed with many of the points raised and it felt slightly infuriating to listen to the remarks made about young people not appreciating their lives and victimising themselves. The monologue did invoke a lot of tensed audience reactions, which was rather comforting to see. This is such a testament to the realistic rewriting and incredible performance, as it created an environment in which the entire room felt a little hostile.
Lynda follows this up with her own monologue, which reflects on their history together. Whilst her speech initially starts slow, discussing how awkward it is to holiday with someone, it becomes incredibly moving as she reflects on what life means to her, and confesses the painful abilities of “loving but not really knowing” someone. This becomes rather moving when she sympathises with Naomi.
This section’s premise of an awkward first date was brilliantly done, and would work as a stand alone longer piece of theatre. We are introduced to endearingly awkward Adrian (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) and no-nonsense Eva (Abigail Weinstock) on their first date. The writing continues its ability to use local references really well and we’re gifted a really invaluable moment when there's a discussion on the Northern Line tube. It’s such a rambling awkward point, but it became my favourite moment in the entire show. Aidan's awkward humour shines through in this section.
The show accurately captures the awkwardness of a first date, with them being unable to decide on what to order, confusion on greeting one another, and asking each other about past relationships. A layer of seriousness is brought about when Adrian makes a half-joke saying that “both (being) Jewish should be enough”. The conversation is quite honest when Eva mentions not looking to follow the same path as her parents and Adrian’s confessions about his inhibitions when it came to romantic relationships, and plays out well.
The date in itself is hilarious and this becomes even more so, with the inclusion of older regular “Godfrey” (Nigel Planer). His initial eavesdropping and background reactions to the couple’s conversation was hilarious, but when he decides to intrude further, the section takes on a new funny twist.
The date lapses into a deeper conversation when Adrian confesses to having a young daughter who he rarely sees, and Eva talking about her friends settling down and feeling lonely. The emotional change is done well, and it’s the moment where the characters really connect with each other. Eva is given a smaller monologue about being rejected to have a dog, and we’re given a moving speech about rejection and feeling like we are not enough, which becomes this section’s strongest moment.
This was the quickest paced section of the play, and strays away from the calmer conversations and monologue driven storylines. With hints to earlier and other characters, it's nice to see it all connect together, but I’m also thankful that it never focuses on them. The play is driven by emotions and conversations, not the characters in themselves, which was a brilliant creative decision. The section starts in the middle of a doctor’s speech (Adrian Schiller), but really catches itself when we see the two siblings Adam (Dan Wolff) and Leah (Abigail Weinstock) planning the funeral of their Nana. The reveal that she is still alive and well was such a wickedly funny moment of morbid humour that I really enjoyed.
The section is rooted in comedy, almost trying to fight off the more depressing theme, and it excels at doing this. The section comes to a close with the funeral of Adam’s daughter’s hamster ‘goldinmyear’. Whilst the serious tone, black clothes and final prayers for a hamster funeral draws a few laughs initially; the heartfelt and emotional eulogy writte by his daughter at an earlier date, and the knowledge that she had already moved on hits hard. Ultimately we do feel the sting of loss and are left to grieve for both the hamster, and the quick ability for humans to move on, alongside the characters.
Overall, The Arc is a beautiful and touching piece, with incredibly strong and beautiful writing. Filled with hilarious and heart warming moments, well-developed characters and great acting. The Arc plays at Soho Theatre until 26th August, for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Danny Kaan