New work is at the heart of the Fringe experience; new work by new companies all the more so. However, much of this new writing can be deeply soul-searching and far too earnest - admirable but a little wearing if done too straight. Which is why it’s a refreshing treat to see a company manage something both profound and laugh-out-loud funny.
Even if they don’t win a Fringe First, they’re a shoe-in for Best Performance as Water Fountain by a Supporting Acto
The Life and Times of Lionel is a study of comfortable drudgery. The titular Lionel lives by his routine: always the same breakfast, always the same lunch, week after week, day after day. Except today. Today is different. Because today he quits his job. That is, if his inner doubts and demons don’t rob him of the courage to speak to his boss.
These inner doubts and demons, in fact most of Lionel’s surroundings, are played by the rest of the company, who also double up as his workmates. It’s this aspect of the show that I enjoyed most, from their puppeteering of Lionel through his morning routine, to their vivid dramatisation of the scenes playing out inside his head to their hilarious depiction of the office furniture around him (even if they don’t win a Fringe First, they’re a shoe-in for Best Performance as Water Fountain by a Supporting Actor)
Lionel himself is played by Josh Ling, who displays a touching innocence and extremely mobile face whilst navigating the pitfalls of his day. It’s a testament that he manages to also blend this with a subtle sense of wrongness, of being stuck in his ways because he’s unable to function outside of them, without either aspect being overshadowed by the other. It also makes his scenes with love interest Emily, played by Leanne Stenson, wonderfully awkward but very sweet to watch as we root for him to finally summon the courage to face himself
The other main characters - Lionel’s tyrannical boss, bully Ritchie and office twit Hugh - are played with less subtlety, one-dimensional caricatures largely, but this only makes them more effective foils for Lionel’s fragility as we see how they could grate on a tender soul. The show is not without flaws - one slightly ill-chosen plot development being the gravest - but it achieves admirably in its aim of bringing to life the tyranny of timidity. Inventive, amusing, energetic and thoughtful - this is excellent Fringe fare from a promising young company.