A sea of heartbreak. Karaoke. Accusations and dirty laundry. Cake and champagne. Pill-popping and binge-drinking. An awkward turn on the stage by yours truly. Crazy wedding photos. Elina Alminas reprises her one woman show for the Camden Fringe 2017. LAURA is an absurd, painful, sympathetic satire of modern marriage, and keeps the audience on its toes throughout.
Within the cloistered, pub-based Etcetera Theatre, Laura stands in black, empty space. Her mascara is already smudged, her wedding dress unzipped. The groom, Johnny, has skipped out on the wedding; actually he has vanished, for reasons as yet unknown. The bride is left alone to solve the problem of a wedding without a marriage. We, the audience, have been cast as the various guests and attendees. Some will be casually volunteered to participate in her weird revivification of the party.
Almost straight away, I get to experience this for myself. Laura steps forward from the stage and hones in, palms held up to me. She is offering me the honor of a dance. Holding hands, and face to face, we slowly descend the steps. It’s one of those unreal situations which seem suspended in time. That saucer-eyed gaze is unflinching, the smile too beaming: already I feel a little overwhelmed. Onstage she embraces me for a stilted, lumbering slow dance. I hear a shutter click: apparently the photographer is still around…
When we split, Laura gives me a visual appraisal. “Hello there“, she says with a gleam in her eye. Beads of sweat are trickling down my temples. I’m also a head shorter, and almost as disheveled in my jeans and t-shirt. “So, tell me, what kind of smooth talker are you?”
Lacking a suitable retort – or indeed any witty repartee – I go with the first thing that enters my head. “Not a very good one actually”, is my immediate answer. At least it gets a collective tittering. I’m afraid her exact response to that falls on deaf ears; head cast down, I slink back to my seat.
“I’m sorry”, Laura calls out mournfully. She repeats it again, as if hoping for some kind of reassurance.
It’s the most awkwardly comic moment, although not necessarily the funniest. In an attempt to outrun her dismal reality, Laura invents a social gathering wholesale. When required, audience members are pulled in – sometimes literally – to become various characters. The result is an absurdist fantasy, a splatter of wedding-comedy tropes painted on the face of mania. The pianist is reimagined as the white knight for a half-baked elopement, dressed up and paraded in biker gear. The best man calmly steers through an interrogation into Johnny’s whereabouts. Accusations of betrayal are leveled at a sister-in-law, who maintains a stony silence. There is even a shouty rendition of I Will Survive.
That’s not to say the experience is all lighthearted, for Alminas maintains a febrile tension throughout. Moreover, even the funniest moments reveal a grim backstory. Johnny is heavily implied to be a jealous and abusive boyfriend; Laura’s friends are not much better. Indeed, the attempt at cajoling together a wedding party really reveals her profound loneliness.
Yet only when she starts devouring pills, chased down by champagne, do things take an overtly dark turn. Lying on the floor, chocolate cake smeared on her face, with the ruins of her self-destruction strewn all around…the photographer takes some portrait snaps.
Laura’s breakdown is a guilty pleasure, but the reasons for it are very much a cause for pained sympathy. Sombre self-reflection unveils a woman at breaking point because of familial, societal and even personal pressures. Johnny is just the latest symptom of a desperate desire for affection. She is both the agent and the victim of her problems; the same, of course, goes for her future. The decision to take care of herself – for herself – is an admirable resolution rather than a fairytale ending.
If what we’ve seen is anything to go by, perhaps it’s better that way.
LAURA was an emotionally compelling, darkly humorous performance by Elina Alminas. Be aware, if you ever catch a show in the future, that you might find yourself (very gently) put on the spot. Thrusting an audience into uncomfortable and/or unexpected situations is a risky proposition; it pays off richly, for what it reveals about Laura – and maybe even ourselves too. The scorned bride might be a familiar story, but Elina has made it a entirely novel experience.
Many thanks to Elina for inviting me to see her show.
Photography: Elina Alminas