Review: You Only Live Forever – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 22 2018

Four Stars

The quest for eternal life has long fascinated storytellers. Usually the treatment of immortality has a nasty edge: think of the torment of Swift’s Struldbruggs or Wilde’s Dorian Gray, with the latter’s portrait putrefying while its subject stays physically flawless.

This show from Viscera Theatre, the follow-up to their 2016 Edinburgh hit In Tents and Purposes, charts a love affair between two women (played by Roxy Dunn and Alys Metcalf, who also collaborated on the script), one of whom has unwittingly swallowed the elixir of life. Although these writer-performers don’t flinch from exploring the implications of one person’s immortality on the couple’s relationship, their approach to a subject that is usually the reserve of horror fiction is admirably light of touch.

Roxy Dunn and Alys Metcalf in You Only Live Forever credit Izzy Romilly (2)

Pic: Izzy Romilly

There are poignant moments in Chris Head’s production, not least as Dunn’s character ages while Metcalf’s remains as vibrant as ever, but any threatened earnestness is undercut with wit or downright absurdity. The story opens at a Vegas wedding and ends with a musical number from a rapping baby.

 

As in the company’s previous Fringe outing, the most entertaining element here is a series of meta-theatrical interludes, in which Dunn and Metcalf step out of the action to give an outline of their creative process. The passive-aggressive (sometimes rancorous) rivalry that characterises their double-act is brilliantly sustained. Dunn is the serious-but-insecure artiste, Metcalf the loose cannon armed with sharp putdowns to prick her partner’s pomposity.

Roxy Dunn and Alys Metcalf in You Only Live Forever credit Izzy Romilly (4)

Pic: Izzy Romilly

The production itself is delightfully lo-fi. The stage contains nothing more than a hat-stand bedecked with various wigs and costumes, placing the emphasis squarely on the pleasures of the writing and the pair’s faultless comic timing.

 

Box office: 0131 623 3030, to August 27

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