Formation Festival: Cowards Anonymous (10-12 July)

“Leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Cowards Anonymous – a support group for shy people who don’t like to make tough decisions. Hosted by some very colourful characters (who begin wearing masks), the welcome given feels more like you’re about to participate in a bizarre shared event, rather than sit back in the shadows to merely observe. And a shared event it becomes, as audience members are picked on at frequent intervals to give their views on a variety of topics and questions.

For many, the term ‘audience participation’ is the stuff of nightmares – the thought of being dragged up on stage, laughed at, or even just spoken to from the comfort of your seat by a performer with a big personality and a microphone – can send shudders down one’s spine and bring on the cold sweats alarmingly quickly. And while one of the aims of Cowards Anonymous is to create a sense of discomfort and awakening to some rather sticky issues, it is mediated in a relaxed and comedic way that nurtures a safe space in order to openly discuss difficult topics – mainly moral choices and philosophical debates.

Indeed, the main strength of this production is the pace and personality driven through it by performers Izzy Hourihane and Eilidh Albert-Recht who do the bulk of the direct addresses to the audience. They bounce off each other well and successfully navigate the tightrope between likeability and authority throughout. Their performance also gives the frequent sense of having gone completely off-book, adding to that feeling of awakening through nigh-on cringeworthy uncertainty of what happens next. Gripping stuff.

Josh Overton’s script dissects the notion of what it means to be a coward, and indeed what it means to be oneself – given the acting up we all do in different situations to please those around us. Posing several thought-provoking scenarios and more than a fair whack of comedy, it leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative, even if the killer punch of the piece is somewhat lacking. Many excellent ideas are presented, but none quite strongly enough to elicit purposeful action.

Director Tyler Mortimer does well to highlight the comedic and playful aspects of the production, yet while the pacing is generally quite rip-rollicking and upbeat, some more variation in tone and timbre might help emphasise the points being made by this piece.

For many reasons, this show is likely to be divisive, yet for those open to something new, it’s an enlightening way to spend an hour. For me, this production just needs to shake off some of its scrappy and unpolished edges, embrace its direct and intelligent confrontational approach and go full steam ahead. It’s refreshing to have one’s mind challenged in this thoughtful way, and I’d encourage more people to do the same.



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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 July)

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