Review: In Search of Applause at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Lorelei is a professional clown – or at least she would be, if she hadn’t given it all up when she met Nigel. He’s a workaholic app developer, who takes her on nice holidays but otherwise seems to have very little time for her; he’s dismissive of her views and won’t even stop working long enough to have dinner together. Now it’s two years later and she spends her days alone, going to yoga, pouring her heart out to a therapist, and flirting with the guy behind the counter at the local juice bar. But hey, at least she’s not poor any more. Right?

Photo credit: Ian Hart

Maroussia Vladi’s In Search of Applause is an intriguing one-woman show, which likens Lorelei’s romantic relationship with Nigel to her career as a performer: though she has a beautiful stage, set, costumes and props, does any of that matter if the audience isn’t paying attention? To an outsider it’s something of a no-brainer, and Lorelei has no qualms about counselling Harry, the juice bar guy, to quit his job and pursue his dream to become a musician. And yet when it comes to her own life, despite her obvious unhappiness after several disappointingly one-sided conversations with her partner, she can’t seem to apply that same advice.

Directed by Andrew Hurst, the play is made up of a series of one-sided exchanges between Lorelei and various off-stage characters. Two of these never appear at all; the third – Nigel – is represented by a hat suspended above a chair, and the sound of rapid typing each time Lorelei returns home and tries to engage with him. As we follow her repeatedly from home to therapy to the juice bar and back home again, we get a feel for the cyclical monotony and frustration of her uninspiring life.

Maroussia Vladi gives a very expressive and engaging performance as she moves around the stage, bringing vividly to life the story’s different settings and characters. Despite this, there’s a remoteness to the character of Lorelei that makes her at times difficult to relate to. She is by her own admission quite old-fashioned in her attitudes, and the play has a similar aesthetic: everything from Lorelei’s outfits to her luggage to Nigel’s hat feel like they’re from a different time to the story itself, which creates a disconnect between what we’re seeing and what we’re hearing, and makes it harder to get lost in the action. It’s a skilful piece of storytelling, but for this reason it does always feel like exactly that – a story.

Photo credit: Ian Hart

If you hear “romantic comedy” and think Richard Curtis, In Search of Applause will not be what you’re used to. What it is, however, is a quiet and reflective piece about what drives us to make the decisions we do (or not), presented with charm, creativity and gentle humour. It doesn’t necessarily go in the direction you might expect, but it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the market for a slightly offbeat take on love and relationships.

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