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Lauren Silver: Surprise! review

| Comedy, Theatre | 22/02/2018


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Lauren Silver’s superb show exposes her anxiety in the most visceral, warm and entertaining of ways

Anyone who’s attended an arts festival in recent years couldn’t help but notice the positive trend of performers talking about their mental health in a way that many would’ve recoiled from a decade ago.  This year’s Vault Festival is no different, with the likes of Sofia Del Pizzo, Naomi Sheldon and Joz Norris putting on important shows that address and explore anxiety, depression and related conditions.

Where Lauren Silver’s excellent piece of theatrical comedy differs is in actually provoking her social and anticipation anxiety to appear on stage.  She doesn’t just talk about it: she makes us live it with her.

Silver pulls off this trick under the construct of a surprise party – which, given her need for control, she says is her worst nightmare – ceding direction of events by handing out confetti cannons for audience members to fire off randomly and letting others dress her in a mishmash of costumes.  And the impact is evident.  Silver soon morphs from an assured, energetic entertainer – all smiles and big eyes – to a nervous individual shallow breathing, gulping down water to combat her nausea (“Good luck to those in the splash zone!”) and letting out loud cackles to buoy herself along in the increasingly choppy waters.

It should make for uncomfortable viewing, but Silver neatly counters much of the awkwardness by keeping her safe space full of laughter, utilising her Gaulier-trained clowning and improv skills to perfection.  From the moment the crowd pop on a party hat, they’re invested in the experiment and take little persuasion to go along with Silver’s brand of physical comedy, whether dressing up as a giant adrenal gland to sing a Sondheim song or projectile vomiting Silly String across the first few rows.

The strongest moments are when Silver relives examples of her Peep Show-esque inner monologue – voiced honestly, acerbically and menacingly – causing her great discomfort and doubt.  The intent is to show how debilitating the voice of anxiety can be, but in the process Silver demonstrates her own inner strength to live with it and realise – in the show’s emotional crescendo – that, although it will “never shut up”, she could stop caring about what it says.

Beyond the extremely important mental health message, Silver manages to project more warmth and goodwill in an hour than you’d expect to see in half a dozen shows, constantly checking to see how her audience are coping and handing out biscuits, sweets and cake to turn the party pretence into a reality.  At the end, an uplifted, foot-tapping crowd leave the venue.  Given the show’s serious and sombre subject matter, that’s the real surprise.

Lauren Silver performed Surprise! at Vault Festival between 14th and 15th February 2018.  For more information on the show, see Lauren’s official website and follow her on Twitter @heylaurensilver.  And to see more great shows at Vault Festival, head here.  Photo credit to Ben Broomfield.

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