58 year old Eric Argyle is dead. Sort of. He stepped out in front of a car without looking, and now he's forced to relive key moments of his existence, in what seems like a purgatorial courtroom. We see Eric's troubled early life, the bond he makes with his employer and surrogate father figure, and the woman who got away.
Meanwhile, a stressed out musician is surprised to find over 5,000 envelopes delivered to her doorstep, each containing a page of Eric's life. Is it all just history now? Or can Eric's memory live on in some more tangible way?
Theatre company 15th Oak ask some big questions in this contemplative tale of mortality, which has previously garnered them a nomination for "Best new play" at the Irish Theatre Awards, and an Edinburgh "Fringe First". The ideas are worthy of 90 minutes of your time, the playfully intersecting timelines and charming young actors help deliver a touching story that would be nice with a cocoa. Unfortunately, it's not very theatrical.
A book about a book about a life that was made of telling stories would be wonderful. The many characters would have room to grow and the form would make much more sense. But we have to judge this as a play. At least three quarters of the time, actors are simply reading from a book - in dim light - it's a potentially sleepy affair. The actors play multiple characters and do shift the furniture around a bit to try and make a stab at rough theatre and storytelling, but there's rarely an inspired moment or beautiful vision, it's just enough to get by without turning completely Jackanory.
Eric's fear of mortality is also seeded far too late to be a credible driver of the narrative. The court setup seems a lazy device to flit back and forth between timelines, and as the play feels a bit long anyway (at least without an interval), it might have benefitted from leaving that whole section out.
Still, it would be hard to say it's not without emotion and some lovely-tasting language. Typically Irish tongue-twisting sentences are delivered with enormous energy, and whether the form of the story is for you... well that's a matter you should decide for yourself. The End.
The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle runs until Saturday 20 April 2013 at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE. Tickets £10-£15. Londonist saw the show on a complimentary review ticket.