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The Conscious Uncoupling (Camden Fringe, London): Review

conscious uncoupling Uncoupled: Rosie Wilby. Photograph: Courtesy of Rosie Wilby.

Poignant, personal, and frequently hilarious, The Conscious Uncoupling is a bittersweet look at end of a modern romance.

It’s been some years since Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow coined the term “conscious uncoupling” as a way of describing their supposedly amicable split. But what exactly is falling out of love in an age of Tindr? Rosie Wilby examines her own heartbreak and questions is it possible to remain at least friends with those we’ve loved.

Writing

Rosie Wilby is quite the formidable lesbian. From singer/songwriter, to comedian, Radio 4 broadcaster, and solo theatre performer, she certainly gets around and makes plenty of people laugh. Following on from Is Monogamy Dead?, Wilby turns once more to the subject of love for The Conscious Uncoupling, with her trademark dry wit and deep observation.

The Conscious Uncoupling combines elements of standup with solo theatre performance, mainly switching between the two, exploring what does it mean to consciously breakup via charting her own relationship’s demise. It’s a nice variety of narrative voice, each one exploring the subject in a distinct way: one provoking thought through wry comedy, whilst the other through an emotive response. The Conscious Uncoupling goes from laughs to personal poignancy and back again, with a bit of A Christmas Carol thrown in for fun. Wilby’s comedy is, as always, absolutely hilarious; her observational wit makes effortless pleasure of what could easily be pathos. But it’s her intelligence and emotion that really shines through in The Conscious Uncoupling. When she reads out scripted prose that describes her relationship, or the email trail that ensues post-breakup, you really connect and emapthise with her and therefore really lock into what she’s trying to say with The Conscious Uncoupling: why do connections with people end when romantic relationships do, and why are we so keen of completely disconnecting from people when this happens?

However, at points you do start wonder what the overall point is going to be, as The Conscious Uncoupling ping pongs back and forth between these two voices it because a little unclear as to where it’s heading. There is little by way of a mid-point summary to help make it clear that Wilby is definitely heading somewhere, and the fact that there’s some unevenness between the distribution of comedy and storytelling in the latter half makes it feel a bit meandering. But Wilby wonderfully pulls everything together at for a rousing finale, tying everything up to a nice and intelligent point, and even if you find the show loses focus a little in the middle, it was still a fun scenic route.

Direction & Production

Solo theatre guru, Colin Watkeys, returns to direct Wilby in The Conscious Uncoupling, after doing a fantastic a job with 90s Woman. Having worked previously with Wilby and extensively with legendary comedian-cum-solo theatre performer Claire Dowie, Watkeys knows exactly how to balance the rapport and spontaneity of standup with theatrical pacing and focus. Watkeys leaves plenty of space for Wilby to do her thing, especially in playing with the audience or ad-libbing with some well chosen props, but always ensures Wilby stays as sturdily on track as possible. Add in a couple of lighting cues, some music to aurally illustrate some of the points Wilby is making, and the result is a show that feels fresh, sparky, and very funny, but also one that keeps energy and drive.

Performance

I’ve always been a big fan of Wilby, since watching her on the standup circuit at my favourite comedy club in Manchester back in the early Noughties. Also, being a guest on her radio show, I’ll admit there’s a little bias here. But in essence, my admiration and love of her work is still purely down to her being a brilliantly entertainer and a very funny lady. Wilby is an incredibly responsive performer who always works with her crowd, feeding off their energy and reactions. What’s more, she has a fantastic ability to think on her feet, always remaining comically in control of any situation thrown at her. It’s this gift that makes The Conscious Uncoupling feel vibrant and alive, despite many of its elements being rehearsed, planned, and quite structured, as this is a solo theatre show after all.

But in The Conscious Uncoupling, you also really get a sense of Wilby’s honesty. It’s a surprisingly soul bearing show, and Wilby’s sense of sincerity and openness is just as captivating as when she’s trying to make you chortle. Wilby really is a star of LGBT comedy, with poise, poignancy, and hilarious wit that makes her a paragon of solo theatre.

Verdict

The Conscious Uncoupling will make you laugh and your heart break a little. You’ll certainly leave thinking differently about relationships in this modern life.

The Conscious Uncoupling plays at Camden People’s Theatre, London, NW1 2PY, 17 – 21 August 2016 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Tickets are £8-£9 (concessions available). To book, visit camdenfringe.com.

The Conscious Uncoupling was reviewed on 16 July 2016 as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love.