Review: Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, Soho Theatre

“I’ve been described as the girl next door…by neighbours”

Fresh from Edinburgh where it was part of Northern Stage’s programme, Will Eno’s collection of short plays, Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, made the transfer to the Soho Theatre to make this a good month for fans of this New York-based playwright. The five pieces are separate but interlinked, insomuch as they complement and reinforce each other with a loose thematic continuity. From the sports coach trying to rationalise a poor season to a man and a woman recording their intros for an online dating service, from an airline spokesperson struggling to deliver a press conference after a plane crash to a photographer and his assistant prepping for a shoot, Eno probes the different ways in which people present themselves, put brave faces on, even in the knowledge of the desperation of their various situations.

Eno’s powerfully evocative use of language brings a poetic charge to much of these, but also demonstrates the different ways in which we use words, as foreplay, as a protective buffer, as a smokescreen, as a way to search for meaning when the point of it all eludes us. The peeling back of the best, and the worst, of the would-be daters reveals lives barely lived; the erudite sports coach unexpectedly holds a mirror, or is it a shield, up to the voracious journalists waiting to tear him to shreds.

The fourth piece, The Bully Composition, really sparkles. Coming the closest to breaking down the audience barrier in a similar way to Thom Pain (based on nothing) – which is just finishing a run at the Print House – as we become the subject of a photograph about to be taken, it gently but insistently draws us in and pulls us together to consider, well, just to consider. Lucy Ellinson – excellent throughout – really grabs the heart here though, with her searching questioning and compassionate urgings to feel.

Under Erica Whyman’s assured direction, Tony Bell and John Kirk also do sterling work at breathing persuasive life into these sometimes enigmatic little plays – the final one is particularly elusive, its strangeness dissipating like smoke in a manner that I found equally frustrating and beautiful. But this is writing of insight and intrigue as Eno once again proves his unerring talent for capturing so much of what is real about humanity with a piercing honesty and eloquence. 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £4
Booking until 13th October

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