Monday, July 15

Life with Oscar – Arcola Theatre

Life with Oscar is a tumultuous to-and-fro between the cult fever of Hollywood and its horrible shadows, all through the autobiographical perspective of Nick Cohen. We are introduced to a round table of figures, immigrant creatives familiar to Cohen gathered round to discuss the casting of Superman. Soon we are whisked from Lewisham to Los Angeles, all the way back to the dawn of the Academy.

It’s not just places and times we encounter; we’re also uncovering the ‘secret formula to winning an Oscar’ alongside Cohen’s persona. We chart Cohen’s quest with a sense of irony, given the show’s semi-autobiographical nature; before our eyes, Cohen is carving out his own Hero’s Journey as a writer. Cohen glides comfortably between portraying characters and describing their actions. Ultimately, his performance is everything you’d hope for in a one-person show. You can’t help but root for Cohen on his Journey, with our attention firm in the palm of his hand.

I owe this primarily to the show’s good measure of comedy. For example, the chief of Sony pictures is portrayed as meeting a nameless Emperor on a spaceship, à la Star Wars, to discuss extending the already ridiculous length of summer blockbusters starring a certain actor named Cruise. This was one of many aperitifs of absurd humour served after the more serious scenes. Another instance can be found in Cohen’s discussion of his relation to the term nepotism: done well with a self-conscious playfulness. Finally, the audience were invited into these worlds through a consistent yet balanced audience interaction. Within such a seamless plot, bouncing off spectators’ responses might be considered to be a risky move, but it fortunately paid off for audience and actor.

Humour aside, there were a number of sobering moments that pulled back the curtain on Hollywood’s ugly facade. We experienced Cohen’s meetings with a creepy film producer, alongside the vivid descriptions of his unnerving behaviour, his large Malibu home and his violent artworks. We are reminded, after a particularly chilling line of speech, that “that’s verbatim.”

There was, of course, the recurring use of the Oscar award prop which remained in total view throughout. Sometimes it served as a telephone to link one character to another, perhaps a commentary on how the famous are connected by the desire to feed each other’s fame. Sometimes it simply represented itself: a powerful emblem that has remained through history. As Cohen gestured across the male statue, peeling away its golden essence, we steal across time and space and memory, always rolling onwards in Cohen’s quest for success. That gesture, and the generational themes of the piece itself, reminds us that the Oscar’s coveted golden essence will last for as long as humans are living.

Life with Oscar is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 20th April, details for booking can be found here:

Reviewer: Eleanor Hall

Reviewed: 3rd April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.