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REVIEW: ‘Juggling’ by Ian Smith at Laurel’s Whitley Bay


Laurel’s Whitley Bay

Until Saturday 29 April 2023

Juggling is a two-hander play that takes a humorous and anarchic look at the lengths to which people have to go, to earn a living in this harsh economic climate. Tour-de-force performances and a funny and inventive script keep the laughs coming whilst providing some poignant moments and a satisfying twist in the tale.

Neve, played by Becky Clayburn, is working as office manager at ‘the world’s worst delivery service’ in Gateshead, whilst also doing cold calls and being a children’s entertainer. She is slowly sinking under the combined pressures of trying to make ends meet whilst nursing a gambling habit, and dealing with a stream of complaining customers whose packages are lost in transit or in the company’s defective tracking systems.

A science and philosophy graduate, she is well equipped to analyse and comment on her plight and has a nice line in put downs and palpably false excuses. This is definitely life writ large and the style leans towards theatre of the absurd rather than realism. Clayburn plays it to the hilt, wisecracking her way through a stream of callers, all portrayed in engaging caricature by Adam Donaldson, ranging from a sweet old lady to an east end hard man. Neve’s response to the latter’s threats and abuse makes for one of the highlights of the evening.

Also played by Donaldson, appearing on a makeshift screen via Zoom from the golf course at St. Andrew’s, is Neve’s boss, an entitled, dim-witted rich boy, desperate to locate a package he’s waiting for.

Neve is meanwhile trying to sell funeral plans by cold call, using an impressive range of voices, and to arrange a date with the chav-tastic Gary, who is deeply in love with his souped-up Vauxhall Corsa.

As if to bring an extra level of surrealism, Neve then dons clown make-up and a garish red wig to act as clown to a children’s party via Zoom, where she makes it clear she is no good at the titular juggling. As she is still handling calls, chaos ensues and the comedy reaches a new level.

The situation comes to a head when the boss, somewhat improbably, arrives in the office to find his package. Its contents threaten to derail Neve’s already shaky existence.  There is no need to reveal the outcome but, suffice to say, this Gateshead lass is made of sterner stuff.

Juggling works well in Laurel’s friendly and intimate performance space, the jokes are plentiful and at times very funny indeed and both performers bring a whole lot of talent and commitment to the piece. The audience was thoroughly entertained but left with some food for thought about the very real issue underpinning this story – that business in Britain today seems to have forgotten an important biblical message, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

The play runs until 29 April.

Review: Jonathan Cash


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