Liver and Lung Productions
C royale, Edinburgh
At the heart of ‘Sarah, Sky and Seven Other Guys’ is the story of a friendship that gradually starts to go sour. We’ve all had them. Whether as the result of malice by one or both parties, or simply beginning to drift away from or outgrow one another, we’ve all had friendships we once thought would last forever, but which ultimately come to a close. And it’s that relatability that makes this play such a poignant, sad hour of theatre.
Housemates Sarah and Sky struggle to find a love interest that will last beyond the thrill of a one-night stand. Whether it’s the tendency of men to play games with women’s feelings to get what they want in the short term, or the challenges faced by LGBT people of colour in finding a partner interested in more than app-facilitated no-strings fun, the two friends just can’t seem to acquire something more meaningful from the male sex, and the passing of a succession of men through their lives over the course of the play serves to demonstrate the truth of this struggle.
‘Sarah, Sky and Seven Other Guys’ was something of a unique theatrical experience for this reviewer. In a festival whose trademark is small, intimate venues, this piece, in the basement Studio 2 of C royale, took the idea of close quarters to an extreme. Essentially, the audience is in a bedroom with the characters, a seating capacity of about sixteen, with a huge, squeaky double bed yards away from the viewer no matter where they’re sitting lending an obvious sense of voyeurism to the point of almost feeling part of the action. It certainly wouldn’t be for everyone. But its intimacy is definitely a factor in the play having stood out in this reviewer’s mind. Over the course of 50 minutes, we see a close friendship fracture and crack and, ultimately, break apart, and it’s difficult not to almost feel like an intruder watching these people’s lives play out.
Colourful Sky is an outwardly vibrant individual, bursting with life, and confidently attracting often attractive men into bed, yet, with the audience looking on at such close proximity, the mask quickly and easily slips in front of us, revealing the real, much less secure persona beneath. Shafeeq Shajahan crafts a flawed, vulnerable, stubborn, emotionally wary protagonist, his Sky often clearly compensating for earlier mistreatment, prejudice (most explicitly suggested in the form of one posh upper class suitor, energetically played by Duncan Hendry, getting off on fantasies of colonial subjugation), and, at the very least, emotional abuse, by projecting an air of invincibility, and attempting to convince Sarah that he’s perfectly happy enjoying a life of partying and hedonism. By play’s end, however, it becomes evident that much of his bravado has been a coping mechanism to get over one particular man, and, in one of the most pleasing aspects of the play, a near-moment of cliched passionate reunion with this ‘one that got away’ ultimately falls away, and the character fails to escape the repetitive cycle of sleeping around he obviously desperately wants to.
If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that Shajahan’s performance is so effective, it arguably overshadows his co-star’s. Sarah certainly starts the play in no better a position romantically than her best friend, yet her predicament never quite feels as pronounced as his. There’s a sense that it wouldn’t be terribly hard for her to escape the rut she’s in if she put her mind to it, and it’s hard to tell whether this is more a result of the writing, or Hannah Shields’ performance- this reviewer would generously assume the former. That being said, there’s great fun to be had in the character’s various dating blunders and faux pas, one slippery, fickle early conquest making us cringe as he makes a quick escape after the deed is done. Later, in one of the best sequences of the play, one of her suitors, played enjoyably by actor Hraban Luyat, takes his passion for her to comical levels, leading to excruciatingly awkward attempts at sex. The sequence would be toe-curling enough in its own right, but, in this reviewer’s showing, took on an even more surreal quality. Luyat is, let’s say, a pleasant individual to look at in a state of undress, and one audience member sitting in front of me took this appreciation to frankly embarrassing extremes. A protracted moment of Luyat’s character trying to put on a condom underneath the covers saw this eager viewer, aided by the intimacy of the space, actively and repeatedly rise out of his seat and crane for a better view, clearly hoping Luyat was method acting. As one might guess, it was simultaneously mortifying and hilarious, producing much laughter from the rest of the audience. To their credit, Luyat and Shields continued the scene visibly unfazed, when it would have been all too easy to have been put off their stride. It inevitably brought the viewer out of the story for a few moments, and yet, on a certain level, made for a more memorable theatrical experience than might otherwise have been the case, and so this reviewer can’t entirely bring himself to regret that it took place. I can’t say I’d be in a particular hurry to share an audience space with that same gentleman again, though.
As previously suggested, ‘Sarah, Sky and Seven Other Guys’ ends on a downbeat note, as Sarah finally enters a more substantial relationship, and a wary Sky, clearly sensing she’ll soon want to move on, preemptively pushes her away, leaving the friends with little way back as they realise one is much more ready to settle down than the other. I’m not entirely sure it’s the best conclusion the play could have had, the playfulness of the characters early on such that you feel more could have been done by both parties to rescue their closeness. It’s almost like a beat is missed somewhere, the ending just a little too low-key. Perhaps a revision to the closing moments of the script might be something for the team to think about for future runs.
On the whole, though, ‘Sarah, Sky and Seven Other Guys’ is a fun, funny, topical piece of theatre, with an affecting underlying sadness beneath the comedy. This reviewer would be keen to see further productions by this energetic young company, and looks forward to seeing them return to the Fringe in future.