Debuting in the Banham Theatre on 21st February, Open Theatre’s Liar Liar is a hilarious and upbeat comedy, centred upon the protagonist Mona, as she stumbles her way through her 20s whilst simultaneously constructing a web of lies about her life to those around her.
Entering the theatre, I was immediately greeted by an intriguing setting; lights in hues of pinks and reds (run by Assistant Director Sara Roche and pre-set by Assistant Producer Kate Matthews) foreshadowed the later elements of romance and sexuality that materialised in the play, as well as conveying the dramatic nature of Mona’s character. A carefully crafted backdrop of two large boards covered in vines and painted plant pots were a clever choice by director and writer Kate Newell, (crafted by each member of the cast and prod team, including Shadow Director Anna Duffell and Assistant Producer Misia Kozanecka), as this versatile set-up proved effective in scenes depicting Mona’s office and workplace, and later masterfully adapted into other scenes. Four chairs placed in a trapezoid-like format allowed the audience to anticipate the first scene, whilst a fun soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and songs from Harry Styles’ new album ‘Harry’s House’, (‘As It Was’, ‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’) played as we waited for the show to begin.
This takes us into our opening scene, the introduction to Mona (played by Grace Conway), who wakes from a bed comically made from bedsheets and pillows, held up by the other members of the cast around her. An intelligent choice by Newell and co-director Ellie Mullins, Mona is able to address the audience whilst adding to the amusement of the scene. As she engages in an opening monologue, stumbling through her morning routine, hungover, and relating to the audience with her self-deprecating anecdotes and breaking of the fourth wall in an almost Fleabag-esque manner, as viewers, we can reminisce about similar terrible decisions we have made ourselves. The music and sound throughout the play added another layer to the show for me. It was perfectly selected to add to Mona’s throwaway attitude and its light-heartedness; a mixture of corny elevator music and the Wii Sports theme tune, it not only received a laugh from the audience, but also made for a fun break in between scenes (overseen by producer Caroline Rauch).
The full cast. Left to right: Emily Moores, Lydia Baggaley, Alisha Walton, Niko Burns, Grace Conway. Photo credits: Hannah Riley.
The rest of the cast come into play as Mona makes her way to the office, greeted by her intense and laughable co-worker Jim, played by Alisha Walton, who we soon learn uses alcohol as a coping mechanism for his boring monotonous job which is something within the realm of statistical analysis and data reconfiguration. He promptly offers Mona a cheeky shot of vodka, to which she declines after her dreadfully drunken night, of which she cannot remember much. Emily Moores is introduced as the hard-hearted boss, who confronts Mona on her terrible actions in the workplace, disciplining her on a range of outrageous deeds, that we as the audience have most likely mentally imagined ourselves doing, (including advising the new members of staff that they should get out of there whilst they still can!). Lydia Baggaley appears as that annoying stereotype of the woman we all hate, ‘Miss Perfect’ at work, which she characterises well and Conway humorously reacts to, creating that angsty-frenemies dynamic.
Multi-rolling was a significant feature of Liar Liar, as each of the actors (bar Mona) adapted into various characters, moulding into the dramas of Mona’s life. Moores’ playful interpretation of the ex-boyfriend, Rico, who Mona unfortunately runs into, was especially memorable as he was characterised in an oversized sports shirt and baggy shorts, representing that popular guy in school, whom Mona was only hooking up with on the down low, and bared resemblance to the dynamics of Normal People. Niko Burns, Walton and Baggaley similarly were challenged with a multitude of characters; Mona is advised by Jim to visit a psychic in order to confront her lying and messy life, in which Burns, dressed in the full hippie attire of bandana and flowy skirt, accompanied by a snow globe ‘crystal ball’, played the part of warning Mona about what she will face if her lying continues, indicating a person she will meet and an unhappy, lonesome fate. This sets up the following events of the play, as Mona grapples with her uncontrollable lying and even her own denial of this bad habit. Newell was creative with movement and performance throughout the show, as Mona’s costumes and hastened changes were effective and intelligently selected. We further see this as Mona gets ready to go out, featuring a sequence of her family and friends noting all of their achievements against the few Mona feels she has.
Mona meets the psychic.
A poignant moment where Mona is forced to confront her ways reveals itself on a first date with Rachel (Baggaley). A cleverly written and performed Instagram model, she ends up pretending to be Mona’s partner of 5 months when they are approached by some old uni friends, orchestrated by the Liar Liar herself. This was a particularly funny scene and my personal favourite of the show, as Baggaley really personalises the role to be particularly distinguished in the type of person she is, especially in her tone of voice and gestures.
The trials and tribulations of Mona’s life leave her feeling isolated, jobless and purposeless. In this moment, with this realisation, I think I would have enjoyed seeing a true moment of stillness as Mona reflects on these emotions, how her own actions have led her life to end up in this way – a moment of melancholy to then heighten the comedy throughout the rest of the show.
Mona begins to find resolution as she enters Harri’s house, the flower shop next to the punny Anne Winters, where after an awkward encounter, she is eventually hired to work there. It is with Harri, the shop owner (Moores), that Mona embraces honesty for once, letting down her walls for the first time. Newell builds on this dynamic, as Harri accepts Mona despite her deceptive tendencies, encouraging her to be herself, and step away from her fabricated life. Though I feel the chemistry between the two could have done with a little more time to be refined, a bold kiss added a great shock factor for the audience and was an uproarious moment, loved by all watching. Replicating the opening scene, Mona is seen to be waking from her bed, held up in the same way, however this time with Harri beside her, creating a nice cyclical structure to the play and showing how despite her rushed romantic adventure, Mona is facing growth from where she was at the beginning.
The blossoming relationship between Harri and Mona.
The underlying message of the play becomes poignant at its conclusion, as a now friend-zoned Mona invites Harri to her family home for her birthday dinner. Each member of the cast does well here to depict a convincing family dynamic, with Walton shining as her tetchy brother, awaiting the worst from their unreliable relative. However, Mona spills the truth of her relationship with Harri almost immediately, as the play concludes on a nice ending note of hope for Mona as she seeks a better life of truth within herself and to others.
Overall, Liar Liar was an enjoyable watch with humorous writing and a clever use of multiple characters, carried by the small but talented cast, who each displayed their acting abilities in their respective performances. The plot line could have done with a few adjustments, as at times I felt the story was lost in place of comedy, however this did not take away from the experience of the show. Liar Liar emphasises being true to who you are and that honesty truly is the best policy, a message displayed in a fun and entertaining way in this original production.