From an undercover operator and rebellious rock star to a manic mother and prolific performer, Linda Marlowe has lived many different lives within one lifetime. Interspersed with her real-life experiences, relationships and encounters as well as a larger personal commentary about her age and the legacy she wishes to leave behind, ‘No Fear!’ is a one-woman show being staged at the Hoxton Hall. The show is directed by Gavin Marshall, who joins Josie Lawrence and David Benson to share the writing credit. The production follows in the footsteps of Marlowe’s previous stage productions such as ‘Berkoff’s Women’ and ‘Diatribe of Love’, in which she says she “expressed (her) love of physical theatre and, the power of words from two great writers, Berkoff and Marquez”. This production touches upon theatrical physicality as well, with Marlowe embodying an out-of-luck mime artist at the beginning and ending with a spirited trapezium act, the latter being the highlight in an otherwise incongruous performance.
The show opens with Marlowe taking the stage dressed in a pink tutu. She begins to perform tricks, mime and clown, each successive section exasperating her even more as she struggles to pull through. Exasperated, she suddenly breaks character and addresses the audience directly as herself. Speculating on the apparent futility and absurdity of being in show business even at the age of 100, Marlowe offers an unsurprising admission that she is getting old (and that she knows it). As an octogenarian, she’s lived through most (if not all) the big moments one finds in their life and her biggest fear at the moment is having no fear at all, for she’s done it all. Throughout, the show touches upon the loss of one’s self-purpose and identity as one grows older, hinting at the casual ageism that exists in society as well as the lack of a nuanced social debate on how mature citizens transition out of their once active lifestyle. Herein, Marlowe takes us down memory lane with an account of the different roles (personal and professionals) she’s played over the years as well as the difficult choices that have shaped who she is. Her self-deprecating humour and defiant diatribe against those who keep telling her to take it easy are what drives the next hour, as she shifts between playing her present-day self as well as playing a dramatized version of herself across ages.
This is where the show slips into an unexplainable clumsiness wherein it tends to become overly self-indulgent, as we witness Marlowe stumble on lines, stops the action the catch her breath, forgets stage props and even take what seemed to be an unscheduled pause between scenes to fetch her glasses. Perhaps all these are intentional, playing on the text’s larger questions about memory and persistence in spite and despite growing old, and seek to highlight Marlowe’s personal politics about life in the show business, every move she makes questioned and scrutinized to wit’s end, so much so that continuing to live unabashedly is perhaps what can restore the fear (and charm) of the years yet to come. However, we are unable to see these intentions (if such) translate to stage due to an inconsistent narrative journey that wades through different chapters of her life without offering any particular provocation or resolution to tie them together. Whilst some sections that rely on fast-paced rhythmic delivery are interesting to watch as they rely on the performer’s extensive vocal and movement quality, there are others that throw up questions and conversations that keep expanding the narrative arc in different directions.
The production elements of lights and sounds feel sporadic, coming across more as knee-jerk reactions to the spoken text than deliberately designed to be such. Marlowe’s endearing presence and ability to befriend audiences manage to create some funny moments that are truly appreciable. However, a general sentiment of ‘carelessness’ comes through in the overall staging, which is markedly different from a ‘carefree’ approach, and risks alienating the audiences even more.
No Fear! Is a spirited attempt to provoke conversations around age, lived experience and legacy but risks reducing itself to a deeply self-referential exploration, perhaps a bit too much, that relies too much on the performer’s personality to drive it rather than the underlying story itself.
You can watch No Fear! at Hoxton Hall London N1 6SH till Saturday 16th October. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk/event/no-fear/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 12th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★