What do you get when you combine historic tragedy, anachronistic comedy and soap operas?
You get Jess Leadbeatter and Amanda Goode’s Lifeboat, a comedic twist on the sinking of the RMS Titanic with a positively soap opera-inspired plot.
Leadbeatter and Goode played a whole cast of varied characters, beginning the show with surrogates of themselves, show runners Amanda and Jess. These performers, donning fluffy white scarves and professing grandiose personalities, played on the audience’s expectations with a song about “going aboard the Titanic”, and how they were “going to make it”.
Leading us into the show was Luke Hutton’s piano. He sat stage left, beginning the show with a lounge music tune accompanied by creaking boat hulls and splashing waves. In the small, intimate setting at Club Voltaire, with couches at the front and ropes lying in coils draped over the set pieces, Hutton’s music created a comfortable atmosphere, a kind of calm before the storm, if you will.
Though it was set in 1912 before one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history, killing more than 1,500 people, the event was a small part of what really gave Lifeboat its charm.
It’s rarely ever the disaster itself that makes a good disaster story. While an environmental tragedy might be the title draw of a blockbuster movie, be it the smash hit Titanic, Pompeii or the classic Poseidon Adventure, what gives these disaster movies their lasting appeal is the human drama that comes as a result of the tragedy. Titanic was a movie about the impending doom of hundreds of people, but tears were shed for Winslet and DiCaprio’s Jack and Rose. The capsizing of the ship represented the tragedy of their romance on a monumental scale. We’d connected with them and at the end we had to watch that connection severed—the disaster became a metaphor for the tragedy of lost love.
The two performers in Lifeboat played a cast of eight characters. They used blackouts, costumes and accents to signal the changes. While each set of characters was varied—in gender, background, occupation and class—what tied the show together was the potent chemistry between Leadbeatter and Goode. Each interconnected skit explored a facet of the fiercely evident relationship between the two performers, and watching this play out against the backdrop of the Titanic disaster was an absolute delight.
Crowd favourites Val and Val, who sat outside on the ship’s bow smoking and gossiping, reflected a Kath and Kim dynamic as they bickered and talked about men and told tragic love stories. Leadbeatter’s Val was married to a sailor on the ship, while Goode’s Val says she “just can’t remember the clammy touch of a man.”
There was an endearing quality about their relationship, giving a real sense that these two had been friends for years. They displayed some meta-self-awareness when Val and Val bickered over the ship’s performers Amanda and Jess, as each character criticised the other performer’s surrogate: who was short, who was the better singer, who was more attractive.
Exhibiting wavering Irish accents, sailors David and Bertram were a markedly different pairing. Bertram was the young, inexperienced sailor eager to learn from David, whose candid and cynical attitude contrasted well with Bertram’s timidity. Their stories intertwine with Val and Val’s, when Bertram reveals he knows his wife Val is having an affair with “the Morse code man”. David offers to kill Val’s suitor, strengthening the bond between the sailors while they’re out drinking together.
There’s also vapid housekeepers Vanity and Chastity who have a penchant for stealing from the richer patrons (including Kate Winslet). Each dynamic explores some facet of the relationship between Goode and Leadbeatter as a comic duo. The histrionic Jess and Amanda showcase the egotistic and competitive side of the performers, while Val and Val are a humble portrayal of their friendship in later years—at ease with each other but not without some sass. It’s fascinating to watch the plot unfold and the drama swell, the twists and turns of which it would be a real shame to spoil here.
Considering the versatile characters and setting changes, it’s a testament to the minimal set design and Emily Goode’s sound and lighting, which subtly signify where we are before the next scene unfolds. Much of this is dependent on the performers, who resume the same spots and similar body language to signify characters.
Hutton’s range of musical genres help to convey the mood of each scene, though his dynamics were a little monotonous. At times I forgot he was playing because much of the score remained at the same intensity. Ultimately it’s up to the audience to follow along as all the plots begin to string together, erupting in total chaos towards the end.
Though consistently funny throughout, some jokes fail to amuse as mere, shallow jabs at contemporary culture. Instead of being situated in the historical context of the disaster, references are made to selfies, hashtags, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. While this kind of approach establishes Lifeboat as a bit of farcical fun, it leans dangerously close to the cringe-worthy American spoof-comedies of Aaron Friedberg and Jason Seltzer, whose pop-culture-centric jokes signify their lack of intelligence. It would have been more fun if Leadbeatter and Goode set themselves the challenge of extracting humour from 1912 maritime America, instead of opting for punch lines no one in the audience needed to think about.
Lifeboat is a highly entertaining and comedic romp, carried along by talented comedians Jess Leadbeatter and Amanda Goode. The dramatic, borderline-ridiculous plot is a captivating surprise, delivering well-thought-out surprises and good, old-fashioned soapy drama.
This is surely one to watch at Fringe. Also, keep an eye out for these two performers who will no doubt put on great shows in the years to come.