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The Camden Fringe: ‘An Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulances’

| Hidden London, Theatre | 08/08/2013

Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulances
Laila Pyne (left) effuses to Alex Hall in ‘An Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulances’

Showing until August 15, 2013

The Camden Fringe

Upstairs at the Gatehouse is another hidden gem of the London Fringe. The downstairs pub with its ambient atmosphere and affordable menu presents an evening worth pursuing. You can get to picturesque Highgate Village on the 210 from Golder’s Green or Hampstead Heath – or take the short walk from Highgate Tube. Just don’t forget your smart-phone.

‘An Insomiac’s Guide to Ambulances’ by Rachel Creeger is in collaboration with paramedic and Blogger Aryeh Myers; a semi-autobiographical account of Myers’ varied, life-affirming and life-changing experiences.

Actors already on stage chat in a corner, as if we are passing some dimly-lit waiting area. The play-proper begins with recorded diary entries; the main character shuffling around his lounge, still in work garb. We are transferred to the idle banter of a staffroom. Switching roles and broken threads trail through typical scenes in the day of a paramedic. Throughout all, only one actor, Dimitri Shaw as Leo, portrays the same person.


Alex Hall and Dimitri Shaw find a clue to their patient’s identity.

One of the cleverest scenes carries a subtext of interracial marriage, as sensitively and capably handled by Laila Pyne. Whilst her husband lies dying, his wife contextualises the history of their life and times. Another affecting depiction is the breaking into the home of a squaddie in mental breakdown. The action also breaks into three strands of simultaneous dialogue, contrasting or blasting the experiences of the paramedic and the soldier. In ranting cacophony it works brilliantly.

House lights are suddenly up and we find ourselves in a Support Group for Insomniacs. A gamble on there actually being any insomniacs in the audience but punters are game and the level of interaction is pleasing. Josh Burdett’s improvised banter is so convincing that you have to remind yourself it isn’t real.

In classic mould of fringe theatre the piece purposely touches on the ‘fringes’ whilst combining elements of improvisation, physical and interactive drama. It does so carefully and effectively. Scurrying torch-lights, shouts and screams evoke the horrendous atmosphere of a night-time traffic accident. This event is intrinsically linked to the development of the main character, as fragments of his life-experience finally fit together. We have left other characters along the way. We remind ourselves that that is the nature of the job. But for purposes of dramatisation, we need a sub-plot greater than a follow-up appointment with the Sleep Specialist.

And we all recognise the frustrations felt by Stacey Evans’ sympathetic and coherent characterisation of the long-suffering other-half. But Leo’s de facto insomnia is not wholly evident. The utter and consuming exhaustion of being totally racked by sleeplessness, the brutal and mind-bending discipline of forced wakefulness, is missing.

On addressing a scene of domestic violence, Leo remarks “He’s a lost kid alright. I think I can get through to him…” and here is the truth of the matter: any job we do becomes a mirror or was the mirror to begin.


August 5-8: Upstairs at the Gatehouse

August 11-15: London Jewish Cultural Centre

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