Life with Oscar ★★★ Arcola Theatre | April 2 - 20, 2024


Life with Oscar is less a play than it is a personal and professional exorcism. The show is an exposé of writer/actor Nick Cohen's origins, ambitions and encounter with the hollowness that is Hollywood. The piece chronicles three generations of Cohen's family and his experience trying to get a film made. As the child of immigrants who have left their roots to pursue success in a new world, the little golden statuette of Oscar comes to represent for Cohen the ultimate symbol of achievement, not simply in a film career but in life itself. In his narrative, Cohen plays an amazing 29 characters, and he manages to bring them all to life. From the bombastic father to the self-effacing mother, and from the sleazy producer to his drug-addled daughter, all the personalities emerge as recognisable individuals. However, while the performance is dazzling, none of the characters are really developed. They remain simply nicely sketched types. The story itself is familiar territory: a tormented talent comes face to face with the shallowness and decadence of the Hollywood scene. What holds the audience's attention through it all, and makes this a memorable evening, is the manic energy of Cohen's performance. His high octane, no-holds-barred presentation radiates a passion that compels the audience to care about his tale of another idealist whose dreams are dashed against the crass commercialism of the movie business.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by G. Taylor

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