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  • Isabella Thompson

Review - Life with Oscar

Arcola Theatre

Playing until: 20th April 2024

Photo credit: G Taylor.heic

Review {AD-PR Invite}

Life With Oscar is a dark comedy (that presents as a confessional-meets-autobiographical satire) detailing the creative and professional life of actor and director Nick Cohen as he chased fame, fortune, and the coveted Oscar. Written and performed by Nick Cohen and directed by Cressida Brown and Nicholas Pitt, the play paints a detailed picture of Hollywood’s underbelly using bold and punchy acting choices. In true one-man-show style, Cohen brings a whopping 29 characters to life and uses a wealth of creative devises to convey the utter depravity of pre—#MeToo Hollywood.


Cohen’s story is indeed gripping. Most of the characters are outrageous, as are their Hollywood escapades. There are, in fact, many jaw-dropping moments and spells of laugh-out-loud physical comedy. I feel the exploration of heritage and ancestral trauma is a particularly interesting element of Cohen’s writing, especially in supplying the ‘why’ behind his obsession with winning an Oscar. It serves as a bridge between the mad stories of LA’s unsettling characters and reality, and provides much needed insight into Cohen’s need for validation from the powers-that-be in Tinseltown. As well as being peppered throughout the show, this theme of family is prominent from the offset, as Cohen begins by telling the audience a childhood story set at his parents’ dining table in 1978.


During this opening portion of the play, it feels apparent that the audience are not familiar enough with the chosen performance style for it to resonate. The mismatch between the conversational tone and heightened characterisations makes it difficult for the audience to connect. The play has a far greater pull as the story develops and Cohen begins exploring characters in more depth. In particular, his fantastical, cinematic retellings of encounters with producing giants are hilarious: Cohen’s performance shines and demonstrates his aptitude for clever storytelling. It may have been valuable from a directorial standpoint to play around a little more with the opening during the rehearsal process.


It is these moments that contribute to the novelty and charm of the show, which is what I crave more of as an audience member. Unfortunately, there are certain elements that detract from this. At times, the frenetic physicality, intended to enhance the dialogue, in reality appears to deplete Cohen's energy reserves rather than serving an effective purpose. Another misgiving of the show is the ending. Though the story is very well structured, the pace is quick and engaging and the audience become hooked on the plot, the play’s abrupt conclusion undermines everything that Cohen has built up to over the course of the show. Though one might argue that this could be an artistic choice to create bathos, if this was the case then it needed to be heightened. As it stands, the audience is left with an unfinished story (not to be confused for a cliffhanger) and feeling a little bit short-changed.


Aside from this, it should be noted that Jon Ouin’s sound and Richard Williamson’s lighting design works consistently well throughout the show. Subtle but effective, I particularly enjoy the lighting of the Oscar statue. Though this is not a tech-heavy show, I can appreciate that it is often a good sign when lighting or sound changes sneak in without you noticing: seamless.


Overall, Life With Oscar is an entertaining exposé of a version of Hollywood which, we hope, will be left in the past. Cohen’s personal story is funny, farcical and touching, and asks thought provoking questions about hierarchy, nepotism, power and superficiality. Despite its shortcomings, it is a well-written and passionately performed show that would benefit from some further development.


Writer: Nick Cohen

Actor: Nick Cohen

Director: Cressida Brown

Director/Dramaturg: Nicholas Pitt

Producer: Jamie Ryecroft

Ass. Producer: Tom Shortland

Sound Design: Jon Ouin

Lighting Design: Richard Williamson

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