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Serious Laughter - A review of 'Retail Therapy' by Theatre-Maker Matt Harper

Late last year I went to see Out of Character perform their newest piece, Objects of Terror. I remember remarking then that this was them at their finest; a captivating and compelling critique of historic and current health care, executed with strength, skill and much aplomb. 

Going from that to a smaller sketch show, Retail Therapy, their latest piece, may not have carried as much impact in comparison. How wrong you would have been to have thought this. Retail Therapy in fact only reinforced the company’s growing repertoire and showcased the diverse talents within the acting team.  What felt like a fresh hybrid of Smack the Pony and Little Britain for 2017, Retail Therapy astutely captured the current consumerist approach to health and care. Through hilarious and satirical sketches on Black Friday at Betty’s Tea Rooms, to sales assistants dance routines, this was an hour of none stops laughs. No one actor could be praised above another as within this fast paced and slick sketch show, superbly directed by Paul Birch, each actor skilfully multi-roled with great attack and conviction.

Within the laughter there were clear tones of resonation with the current climate of the cost of health and care. One sketch in particular, where the patient is being seen my a plethora of different doctors, to which she must regale them with her past illnesses and current medication, only to be told that her allotted time was up, to try a fast remedy, to make another appointment or, in an extremely comic twist, become a doctor herself, brought the overall message into clear focus. Access to consistent and person-centred healthcare is something which struck a chord with many in the audience, by the many knowing laughs coming from the auditorium.

The laughter was quickly curtailed in the final scene; a grim presentation of the harrowing cuts, disproportioned budgets and drastic impact these are having on the experience of mental ill health. Indeed, we left the theatre having been tickled by some highly astute and polished observational comedy, yet discomforted by the real life parallels that still need to be addressed.

Once again, Out of Character show that whether through humour or hard-hitting drama, they have a very refined voice, important things to say and most certainly a refreshing, vibrant and adept style of getting this across.  - Matt Harper

Huge thanks to Matt for coming along to see the show and for this review.  For those of you want to check out more of his work...

About Matt:

Matt's passion for theatre started in Cumbria, where he is originally from and where he acted on stage from the age of 8.  In his teens, Matt was lucky enough to work and train with the National Youth Theatre. Matt moved to York to study and graduated with a First Class (hons) in Performance: Theatre, after which he became the Drama Teacher at Stagecoach Scarborough and Associate Artist (Director, Writer and Actor) for Six Lips Theatre. Matt was the long-standing Artistic Director of Upstage Centre Youth Theatre and is a freelance Youth Theatre Practitioner for York Theatre Royal and Assistant Director for Grand Opera House, York's Stage Experience. Matt also runs his own community arts collective, Next Door But One delivering Forum and Playback Theatre workshops to community groups, organisations and in educational settings. In 2013, Matt became the Artistic Director of Once Seen Theatre Company, a company formed of actors with learning difficulties. Matt guest tutors on the Theatre programme at York St John University.