My first impressions of 6 Foot Stories’ production of Soften the Grey is that I may have accidentally stumbled upon the final of the ‘London Hipster Beard Wars 2015’. Both actors are sporting such impressive facial fuzz that for the first minute and a half I am completely startled and am just waiting for the rest of Munford and Sons to come on. But once my initial awe fades and the action begins its business as usual at The Hope Theatre in Islington.
Soften the Grey is an interesting little piece about what happens once you die; don’t worry it’s cheerier than it sounds. Nigel Munson plays a man who has very recently died in a scuba diving accident and is now waiting for the afterlife’s receptionist, played by Jake Hassam, to allocate him his perfect eternity. The opening moments of this bright-eyed production are littered with Monty Python-esque exchanges such as ‘Name? Address? Do you really want to hurt me? Can you feel the love tonight?’ and launches the audience into this alter-reality. Playing the manic and bureaucratic nether-being against Munson’s straight man, Hassam has a twinkle of danger in his eyes that keeps the audience guessing. However I would have liked to see him push this glimmer of madness even further.
This bizarre questioning continues and there are some incredibly clever moments as the receptionist whittles down the divers options such as the Pearly Gates of Heaven, Nirvana and a room filled with 72 virgins. The fast paced nature of this back and forth brings out the comedians in Hassam and Munson and there are some jolly funny snippets within the first half. However, this can really only be sustained for about 30 minutes and as the play takes a turn for the darker it began to lose my interest. A tacky strobe lightning effect and hammed up electrocution stage directions really let this show down and towards the end the script begins to flag under the weight of the philosophy it tries to unravel.
Overall, Soften the Grey is enjoyable to watch and I can see why it proved so popular in Edinburgh. It is therefore a shame that the audience walk away with the slightly flabby second half in their memories and not the engaging opening.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Soften The Grey is playing at the Hope Theatre until 31 January 2015.