By Anna Hayes
A friendship in disarray seems to be a popular theme at the moment and it’s one that is explored with great heart, humility and hilarity in Laura Knaggs’s one-woman show Silly Little Things, a clever title because the character’s concerns are neither silly nor little.
Performed by Knaggs herself, the play is a sharp, witty and uncompromising exploration of a person whose life is really just not where they want it to be right now.
I feel I should preface any review by saying that while everyone probably has a Rosie in their life, I spent the first 15-20 minutes wondering if the writer knew one of my friends who couldn’t be more of a Rosie if she tried. It was almost unnerving, the mannerisms and turns-of-phrase absolutely a dead ringer for my friend. Although, as I say, I suspect many of the audience in attendance have their own ‘Rosie’.
We open in a nightclub toilet cubicle where florist Rosie is getting high and trying to get in contact with her best friend Cara. We’re told a litany of positive things about Cara but, right from the off, it’s clear that not all is rosy (pun intended) in the friendship.
Rosie’s life is a bit of a mess, really. She’s got a business that’s haemorrhaging money, a best friend who’s shunned her, an ex boyfriend who’s strutting with a commune in Byron Bay (because of course it’s in Byron…), a neighbour with a penchant for property damage – namely Rosie’s property, a disinterested employee and a Tom Cruise-obsessed daily (and seemingly only!)
And that’s all before we meet Doughnut Boy, the love interest who is essentially a ‘great white hope’ that Rosie clings to as a replacement for her diminishing friendship with Cara.
It’s quite a powerful impetus in a play – that seeming disintegration of a friendship for reasons that seem unclear to Rosie, albeit clearer to an audience. But even that serves the purpose of highlighting how hard it is sometimes for people to see things because they’re simply too close to them.
A one-person show is a huge ask of any actor – it needs an accomplished performer, aware of the fact that there is nowhere to hide on the stage and if there’s a weak link in the show, it’s likely to be you.
Knaggs, under the excellent direction of Sharnema Nougar, doesn’t need to worry in this regard as she’s, quite simply, brilliant from start to finish, showcasing a range of emotion and depth that carries the play on a swift wave. She flicks seamlessly from the hyperactive party girl through the uncertainty around her friendship to anger, exasperation, desire and everything in between.
Toward the end of the play, there is a prolonged scene where Rosie has a panic attack – it’s uncomfortable viewing but it’s an incredible piece of acting – I almost wanted to hand her a paper bag, it was so realistic and affecting.
Everything about her performance was pitch perfect – she has great stage presence, some of which was highlighted in moments of silence, letting a line or a moment breathe. It’s an impressive feat for a girl as tall as Knaggs to convey such a feeling of smallness on stage.
But it’s not just Rosie that she works with – it’s the whole host of characters that cross her path. While the characters are archetypes, none of them feel staid, or lazily portrayed. Each has their own look and voice – being Irish, I must commend Knaggs on one of the better accents that I’ve heard!
I also greatly enjoyed her portrayal of Ingrid, the disinterested employee who is more interested in clubbing and taking pictures of her feet. The stand-off between Ingrid and Tom Cruise is a pure lesson in physical comedy and one of the funniest moments of the show, and that’s in a show full of comic touches.
The stage is a tight space – the theatre is long and narrow and, though I was at the front, the acoustics of the room were such that I didn’t expect anyone had trouble hearing from further back. The director keeps the stage simple – it’s a black box space with a small step-stool that works as a variety of set pieces.
Lighting too is simple with a couple of spots and a general wash which work effectively. Audio is something that’s used in the early scenes in the nightclub but scarcely afterwards, except for the ghostly presence of Rosie’s mother via voicemail.
As the climax of the play rolls around to a realistic conclusion, I like that we don’t see an entirely happy ending – while certain parts of the play ask us to suspend our disbelief somewhat, it is good that certain things don’t work out in the end. It adds power to the panic attack we watch earlier in the play that some of its contributing factors don’t get resolved in an easy way.
Also, Rosie is a very real character and portrays the reality that life’s not easy. It’s always tempting to wrap a comedy up with a neat bow but it’s a better play for the fact that Knaggs didn’t do that.
I have two minor qualms – the first being that, other than some social media, we don’t really get a sense of the break-up that starts Rosie on her journey. Yes, it happens before the life of the play but I thought we might have seen a little more about how that, and the whole living together for four months afterwards (the aforementioned friend also did this!), affected her.
The other thing was the Happy Meal set-up which I think came just a little too late in the play and was still very fresh in the audience’s mind when it came to the payoff of the idea. Dropping that story in earlier on would have created more of a feel of the action coming full circle.
But these are minor things that don’t take from the enjoyment of the play.
Knaggs and Nougar, together, have created a little gem of a play, full of heart, optimism and humour. And really, what more could you have asked for on a Friday night?