I Could've Been Better

James Whiteaker is a train announcer who has never been on a train. He’s taking swimming lessons and harbours a deep-seated rivalry with an eleven-year-old girl at the pool. He’s in a relationship with his schoolfriend’s mother, who taught him to box. Welcome to the world of I Could’ve Been Better.

For the most part, this show’s offbeat whimsy is a joy. Jimmy Whiteaker, playing his namesake, the protagonist, is marvellous. With a slight stoop and constant joking about his big teeth, he’s endearingly geeky and childlike. He interacts with the audience in a friendly and nonthreatening way, never dropping out of character: at one (delightful) point, he gets everyone in the room to make paper aeroplanes. Yet he’s also capable of something a little more serious and a boxing-inspired movement sequence seems genuinely heartfelt.

Yet there are a few things that seem a little out of place. The prop that represents the swimming pool, for example, is entirely covered in Liquorice Allsorts, a slightly distracting addition that is never referred to. At least, however, this saccharine extra is harmless and not unsettling. A sex scene, sensitively and subtly performed by Whiteaker, had me on edge because it took place between a fifteen year old and an adult. The age gap (like the Allsorts but slightly more worryingly) is never addressed. It forms part of the crucial love story of the show and I think the audience is supposed to accept it as just another facet of the thoroughly unconventional relationship. I couldn’t stop the alarm bells ringing, though, and as a result, in spite of Whiteaker’s sensitive declarations of love, I never quite warmed to this plot, which forms the emotional core of the show.

However, even though I was made uneasy by an unacknowledged age gap, I still thoroughly enjoyed I Could’ve Been Better as a whole. Whiteaker’s performance is impeccable, and there’s plenty of comedy to relish in his exchanges with his eleven-year-old swimming nemesis and eccentric station announcements. This production is a charming (but not bland or unambitious) look at a still-childish, unashamedly uncool, small-town life.

Reviews by Hannah Mirsky

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Performances

The Blurb

Entering an over-10s swimming gala, aged 30, to defeat 11-year-old nemesis Veronica Barr, a signalman swims for his life. 'Wonderfully unique and beautifully heartbreaking' (TotalTheatre.og.uk). 'Tender and hilarious' (Exeuntmagazine.com). www.idiotchild.com

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