If This Is Normal, is a dark comedy drama about coming of age, the first time for everything and what happens when the lines between love and friendship blur. Written by Lucy Danser and directed by Helena Jackson, this highly emotional show takes you on a rollercoaster of highs and lows, making you laugh, cry and get lost in the euphoria and dread of first love, first heartbreak and that one defining moment everyone has where they realise that all too suddenly, they’re all grown up.
The play opens with three wooden chairs facing the back of the bare stage with Alex (Aoife Smyth) and Maryam (Zarima McDermott) sitting while Madani (Isambard Rawbone) paces up and down while talking about his love of boxing and fledging career training local teenagers in the sport. More sporty than academic, Madani has a lot of admiration for his sister, Maryam, whose intelligence and curiosity contribute to her strong and confident personality.
Maryam and Madani have recently moved area into a smaller house following their parents’ separation. Also new at their school is Alex, who has moved from south London to Kilburn into a much bigger house. All three are nervous on their first day, Alex and Maryam soon make friends when Alex rescues the nervous Maryam from a bully. This leads to a developing friendship between all three, which as they grow up, leads to Madani falling in love with Alex.
The last day of school arrives and the three friends go out to celebrate the long, hot summer stretching ahead of them, but a drunken kiss between Alex and Madani unleashes a chain of events which will change all of their lives forever.
This is a highly emotional piece and Smyth’s portrayals of her different feelings are particularly strong. Very funny with natural comic timing and subtle humour throughout her performance, it is very easy to like Alex and empathise with her on her journey.
The costumes are a mixed palette of bright colours and dark neutrals which emphasises the sense of the characters both wanting to stand out and to hide in a corner with their awkwardness. Good use is made of the positions and height of the characters to illustrate changing statuses and emotions throughout the piece.
Rawbone’s performance as Madani is very strong with his nerves as his relationship with Alex develops being palpable. This contrasts well with his protective instincts towards his sister and his admiration for his boxing coach, Phil.
The play deals well with darker issues but could push this further to add strength to its point. The piece relies heavily on telling through conversations with characters rather than showing the impact that exposure to pornography has on teenagers and their relationships. While this avoids gratuitous or unnecessary scenes being presented, it would still be possible for further exploration of the themes to be undertaken which would strengthen the core message of the piece. The issue of what constitutes consent is discussed very well and this point is therefore more compelling.
If This Is Normal is a very funny comedy which is an excellent reminder that growing up and having your first relationship is just awkward for everyone, and social media and the internet have added further layers of discomfort and clumsiness. Very poignant, moments of the play will leave you cold with dread and you will want to rescue all three characters from each other and themselves at some point. An admirable piece of theatre, this is something with issues that you can keep discussing long after the curtain falls.
Further information about If This Is Normal and its educational outreach programme is available here https://www.chatbacktheatreandcomedy.com/lost-in-thought-1
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 3rd May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★