Soapbox Racer at Alphabetti
I haven’t been doing a lot of reviewing on this blog lately. In part this is for all the usual reasons – time, money, prioritising paying work – in part also because, much as I really love reviewing, it’s also fun to sometimes just buy a ticket and watch a show without that ticker tape of commentary running through my head. ‘Did I catch that character’s name correctly? I hope it’s in the press release, I’ll never spell that!’ Honestly, sometimes it’s nice to not have to have an opinion.
Then sometimes I see a show and I think, people need to shout about how good this is! And I want to be one of those people. Soapbox Racer is one of those shows.
I’ve been to Alphabetti a few times this year – it remains one of my favourite venues (I was thrilled when it won The Stage award for Best Fringe Theatre), but I missed the press night for this as I was away. However, I had heard enough good things that when a friend offered me her plus one for last night, I was keen to go along. The evening started on a little wobble when, at the start of the show, some inconsiderate ass left their phone on autoplay, so I missed the opening few lines of speech trying to figure out who the culprit was so I could do the British thing of glaring at them until they felt bad. Reader – the horror. The inconsiderate ass was me. So I missed the next few lines doing a full body cringe, scrambling in my handbag to silence the offending Instagram reel (I don’t know why my phone does this – I switched it off, honest!), and assuring myself that it had been quiet enough that people thought it was part of the opener. Not the most promising start, to be honest, and it’s hard to enjoy a show when you develop a tension headache in the first five minutes. But MY GOD, it won me over fast.
The story itself is fairly straightforward, with a strong bent towards the absurd. Teenager Kay has been dumped by her boyfriend for her best (and, um, only) friend, and decides – somewhat randomly – that the way to win him back is with a Grand Gesture. Said Grand Gesture will be to secretly build a soapbox car to enter a local race, as an ode to love. What could possibly go wrong?
The piece starts out as broad comedy – writer Ben Schwarz has a gift for cracking speech and a keen eye for humorous details. Kay is a delightful creation – brash, outspoken and a bit awkward, sweary and silly and fun. But while the laughs never stop, as the show progresses, we see the beating heart beneath the bravado: her fraught relationship with her father since her mam left home, the pain and intensity of teen romance and female friendships, the pressure to become the ‘right’ kind of girl in a society that has very different standards for the genders. Schwarz has a real sense of family and friendship dynamics, and director Rosie Bowden beautifully grounds these weightier moments without letting the narrative sag.
Of course, a one woman show stands or falls on its performer, and Harrison Rowley-Lynn is an absolute delight. Instantly likeable, she is a gifted comic actor who absolutely hurls herself into the role, grabbing your attention from the moment she walks on stage to the minute the lights come up. It’s an absolutely tremendous performance. Rarely off stage for even a second, she barely pauses for breath, and she manages both the broadest of the comedy and the heaviest of the emotional beats with equal aplomb.
Praise should also go to Matt Jamie’s sound design and the show’s well-chosen soundtrack, as well as John Rainsforth’s LX design and Ali Pritchard’s delightfully chaotic and clever set. It’s particularly notable that every performance is captioned (and some are relaxed, or audio described). Though this does make you wonder, if a fringe theatre like Alphabetti can do it, why can’t bigger venues?
At a brisk hour run-time, the production moves faster than a downhill racer on a very steep street, and since it’s only on until May 13, you should race to get your tickets.