16th October 2021

Review: Glee & Me

Aayush Chadha reviews Glee & Me at the Royal Exchange Theatre
Review: Glee & Me
Photo: Helen Murray

On the outset, the theme of Glee & Me seems to be one that has been done to death (pardon the pun) across countless forms of media. Despite that, Glee remains watchable thanks to a script filled with razor sharp dark humour, poignant moments, and, of course, stellar acting.

Add to that the Royal Exchange’s intimate stage setting, and one cannot help but feel that in watching Lola, we were watching our own close friend make their way through a terminal diagnosis with pluckiness, humour and, most important of all, gratitude for having experienced love.

The story revolves around a 16 year-old girl, Lola, portrayed by the fantastic Liv Hill, who has been handed a terminal diagnosis.

As this sword of Damocles, or should I say tumour of Damocles, hangs over her head (thanks to Anna Yates’ minimalist set), Lola goes about making the most of the time she has remaining, delivering Stuart Slade’s lines with panache one moment and tenderness another, moving between the two effortlessly, guided by Nimmo Ismail’s deft direction.

The wallowing in sorrow is often followed by dark jokes, such as “with you dead, I will save a fortune in University tuition fees”. It’s almost like eating a jar full of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans: you have no idea what emotional boomerang is going to come next.

On the other hand, there was a certain sense of predictability to it. Now, some might say, by that yardstick, all our lives are very predictable – all of us are dying. No points for figuring that out, Socrates. Or as Lola put it – “Every single human activity though, they’re all avoidance mechanisms to blot out the terrifying inevitability of your own death.”

But that’s not the kind of predictability I am discussing here; it’s a predictability in terms of realising that every time we think of our mortality, we inevitably come to the conclusion that we must fundamentally change how we live in the present, enjoying the little moments with our loved ones, noticing the colours (literally and metaphorically) around us and taking delight in the fact that, right now, right here, “we are savagely, emphatically alive.”

This predictability is not necessarily a bad thing, for as we go on living our routine lives, this view fades somewhere into the background, only to be brought back into focus as soon as we have a brush with our own mortality or the mortality of someone we feel close to (as all of us did to Lola).

With most of the country trying to head back to a pre-pandemic state of things, it is only a matter of time when routine takes over yet again.

Perhaps, under such circumstances, shows like Glee & Me serve as useful reminders, albeit a little annoyingly nagging, to actually think of what it means to be alive as we go along rather than waiting for the moment
when death feels closer than ever.

Glee & Me plays at the Royal Exchange Theatre until the 30th of October.

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