Only a couple of weeks ago I, and some friends, were in an Escape Room. The concept was that some art had been stolen and replaced with a bomb. We had to work out how to stop the bomb within 60 minutes or we would ‘die’. A very similar concept has been put to use in this latest offering by Moose and Noodle Soup entitled A Great Big Sigh. Walter and Tina awake to find themselves tied to some chairs and an ominous message explaining that they must find the correct combination to the safe or they would die. Thus begins 45 minutes of frantic clue-finding and learning about each other in order to survive.
The acting is exceptionally performed.
Walter and Tina wake up as strangers and quickly have to become friends so that they can work out how to escape with their lives but due to Walter’s behavioural struggles it becomes an increasingly difficult challenge.
The entire play was written by its two performers. Maryhee Yoon, who plays Tina and Riley Marinelli as Walter. Maryhee Yoon was great to watch as Tina. She wore her tough-girl attitude on her sleeve and didn’t have time to put up with Walter’s shenanigans. Tina is very single-minded and Maryhee made sure this showed. Her exasperation with Walter was very nuanced and it was good to see her soft side come through towards the end. Riley was a delight as Walter. Goofy, childish and lost he rolled around the stage and had the entire audience laughing within seconds of waking up. It quickly transpires that Walter must have some form of Autism or Asperger’s. Whilst loveable and sweet, the character does, however, become increasingly frustrating as the minutes tick by and there appears to be no development. We do get backstory, which is wonderful to receive, but we get no sense of growth from Walter throughout their ordeal. Tina is able to put up with Walter’s traits, but Walter never seems to learn to reciprocate as the comedy spirals into a piece of out-of-place monologues and backstory.
The direction is by Eifon Ap Cadno and he does a brilliant job with the space and concept given to him. Incorporating the use of the visible fire exit, and its signs, helps to give the fairly weak premise some plausibility and sense of grounding. The opening slapstick sequence with the two characters getting free of their bounds was particularly well-handled.
The design by Becca White worked well with the one window being the only visible light. The set’s reveal at the end was delightful. A special mention must also go to Mia Rose Finnigan whose voice is heard over the tannoy warning the ‘participants’ how much time is left on the clock. It also handily works as a countdown for the audience as to how much of the piece is left to sit through. This is because although the characters are very well put-together, and the acting is exceptionally performed, the plot does not stand up at all.
In the escape room I was recently inside, it was frantic and confusing and fun. There was no threat of actual death looming over us, but if there had been then everything would have been even more chaotic. In the play there is a very real bomb threat hanging over their heads from the second they awake but this seems to be entirely forgotten at times when it has been decided that we need some character exposition. The number of times they sit down to reveal some secret or family difficulties is entirely at odds with the world we have been presented with. There is no real explanation as to why Tina keeps talking to Walter after his misogynistic remarks or bizarre behaviour. If her life had really been at risk then she would have knocked him out and escaped long before the time had run out.
Then there is the ending with it’s bizarre set of twists (some of which had ben far too obvious from the start) that must not be scrutinised closely or the entire plot comes crashing down. Together, these two points unfortunately make this production nowhere near as good as the first ten minutes promised. Riley and Maryhee have created some wonderful characters which I would love to get to know better but the scenario they have dropped them in does not give them the chance to shine as brightly as they should. Ultimately the entire show comes back to friendship and what it means to be a friend, or to have no friends at all. It is a very powerful and poignant message and the show had so much potential but, sadly, the only expression I could genuinely give the company at the end was just A Great Big Sigh.