Review: But What If You Die?, Camden People’s Theatre

Adam Lenson’s But What If You Die? toys interestingly with the one-man show format at Camden People’s Theatre

“What about him?”

Even the mention of a one-man show is freighted with different meanings for people, anecdotally among my non-theatregoing colleagues they appear to be much maligned. But if a show were to change someone’s mind, I’d wager that  Adam Lenson’s self-penned and performed But What If You Die? could give it a good go.

Nominally, it is the story of Lenson’s diagnosis with and treatment of skin cancer but through loop pedals, a non-linear timeline that would put Doctor Who to shame, Libby Todd’s striking design, songs and a good deal of mordant humour, it proves so much more. Underpinned by a philosophical approach to the events of his life, Lenson wonders what if, what if, what if… and then wonders about what that wondering does to us.

Whether by accident or design, this kind of multiverse thinking seems to have found a moment in the culture with books, film and TV all having a crack. But you’d imagine they’d all struggle to match the intensely personal focus that is brought to bear here as we flit variously from past to present, trying to find if there is indeed a reason that shit happens to us all as Lenson muses whether different life choices would have resulted in different outcomes.

And for all the heaviness of the subject matter – with moments like a father’s hand on a shoulder and a depiction of being in MRI scanner cutting so deep – there’s also a lightness here too – an urging to accept the human condition and the endurance of hope. Hannah Moss’ direction marshals the technical elements brilliantly – Christian Czornyj’s sound, Holly Ellis’s lighting and Matt Powell’s video all impressive – and the cumulative effect is something life-affirmingly refreshing. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Jane Hobson
But What If You Die? is booking at Camden People’s Theatre until 14th May, and then streams until 30th May

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