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You're Human Like the Rest of Them

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 9th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Wife (Sarah Berger) in Not Counting the Savages

Sometimes I feel like a spectator of my own life - outside. 

In a production commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, You’re Human Like the Rest of Them, an evening of three short plays by the experimental novelist, poet, playwright and film producer B. S. Johnson, are staged together for the first time. 

Spanning ten years of Johnson’s short yet prolific career, the production features revivals of Johnson’s short plays You’re Human Like the Rest of Them and Down Red Lane, and the world stage premiere of Not Counting the Savages, all dating back to the early 1970s. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of this undeservedly forgotten author and one of the most irreverent and subversive writers in post-war Britain.  

Not Counting the Savages was originally produced as a teleplay directed by Mike Newell and starring Brenda Bruce as part of the BBC’s Thirty Minute Theatre season in 1972. A middle-aged lady (Sarah Berger) returns traumatised from visiting her son's grave after an encounter with a flasher. She expects her family to support her but her husband (Brian Deacon) couldn't be more indifferent: "You've seen one before". Instead he begins to talk about his experiences in the Soviet Union - where he has never been. Daughter Rosa (Emma Paetz) shows a little sympathy but accuses her mother of overreacting and instead uses the opportunity to criticize her father's despicable behaviour. Son Jerry (Bertie Taylor-Smith) wants to hear all the sordid details of the story as he might need them for his soft porn films. This is all very amusing until the victim of this outrage screams: "I want him hanged!"which silences her offspring but leaves her husband untroubled as he continues eating his dinner.     

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Diner (Reginald Edwards) and Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths)

Down Red Lane was Johnson’s final work written before his untimely death at the age of 40. Possibly an inspiration for an episode of Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life", this gastrodrama features an enormously obese man - the Diner (Reginal Edwards) - who barely makes it to his table in a posh restaurant to indulge in another luxurious meal. The Waiter (Bertie Taylor-Smith) knows what his patron desires and showers him with expensive wines, oysters and venison with juniper berries whilst the Diner's long suffering Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths) flinches with every bite his master takes. Finally Belly stirs up the other fed up organs and starts a revolt. A very funny and absurd play about a man who is "digging his grave with his teeth".

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Emma Paetz and Reginald Edwards

You’re Human Like the Rest of Them was Johnson's first play, originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964 and later turned into an experimental short film by Johnson himself.

A young supply teacher named Haakon (Bertie Taylor-Smith) is sent to hospital with a back complaint and finds himself being lectured in back care by the therapist (Sarah Berger) alongside a group of octogenerians. Haakon wants to know why the spine was not designed for bending down but the therapist has no answer. Upset, Haakon returns to his own classroom and asks his pupils to explain the meaning of life as his own beliefs have been irreversibly shattered.

Carla Kingham's direction is fast-paced and exact. There are only short interruptions between the plays to move the few props. The stage design by Rüta Irbite consists of a few geometrical shapes scattered across the stage with the set pieces of the main production in the background. 

The cast find the correct balance to make their characters believable in this highly absurd and stylised play. Sarah Berger is touching as the lonely wife, Alex Griffin-Griffiths and Reginald Edwards are hilarious as the Belly and its gluttonous owner. Bertie Taylor-Smith convinces as the smug son and the perfect waiter who seems to move on rails as he swiftly caters to the Diner's every whim.

A rare opportunity to see some of B. S. Johnson's sadly neglected plays.

Until 21st March 2017

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

Running time: 70 minutes without an interval

The run will be accompanied by the FINBOROUGHFORUM, a series of informal post-show discussions and debates, on Monday evenings: 13 and 20 March. All events are free to ticketholders for that evening's performance of the play. FINBOROUGHFORUM events will all be Twitter friendly with live tweets from @FinboroughForum. Using the hashtag #finfor, the speakers will also answer questions posed on Twitter so everyone can be included, no matter where they are in the world. Speakers will be announced shortly. 

Images by Matthew Foster.

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