Royal Exchange Theatre
Written by Stuart Slade
Directed by Nimmo Ismail
Lola is 16 and super bright. Lola has big plans. Lola has a future as bright as the interior of her bedroom. And then suddenly Lola has Glee (Glioma Multiforme) and a median life expectancy of 11.2 months. Glee & Me was the winner of the Judges prize at the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting . Writer Stuart Slade has created something incredibly special in this portrayal of living your best life in the face of your impending death. With this kind of subject matter it is such a delicate line between creating some magical and memorable and producing misery porn… Sykes has done the former.
Director Nimmo Ismail has done an exquisite job of encapsulating the spirit of the writing. Liv Hill ensures that the Lola on stage is the girl next door, the clever, capable girl at college, the daughter you worry about, the mate you’d like your own daughter to have and the bright funny girl that some of us have already seen taken by a lethal brain tumour. Liv Hill shines in this role as she navigates her way through diagnosis, surgery, treatment and hospice care. Never maudlin, she faces life or what’s left of it and makes plans for the future she has. There is a defiance in her actions but increasingly a calm when all she has is each moment in each day. We talk so casually about living in the moment but perhaps nothing quite focuses the mind than impending death.
The play is a one hander yet Hill brings life to those around her…we sense a mother struggling with losing her only child, we meet best friend Clem who helps Lola make her video blog and Rufus her student boyfriend who supports her while valiantly assisting Lola cram in a lifetimes sex into under a year…no mean feat! In short this a production teaming with life. The staging is bright with yellows and pinks while the lighting has pulsating beams that hum and crackle with energy or flash as neurons die as the tumour advances.
Glee & Me is emotive but oddly inspiring and reassuring. I found it impossible not to emerge with moist eyes but mainly it feels uplifting. We are so afraid of death and often so sad and angry when it draws close. It is easy to forget or miss that other core emotion, joy. This is a sublime piece of writing that does not ignore or minimise the fear, the sadness and the anger, but it allows a light to shine on the joy too. The joy we find in sex, in paddling on a beach, making a log fire or simply being with those we love. As Lola says having a finite amount of time…makes everything more – vivid. In the end what remains is love.