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One Day at a Time: A play by Phil Fox. Outside Edge Theatre Company.

Riverside Studios, Hammersmith.  November 2010.

OneDayPoster.jpg “I’ve not come here for you;  I’ve come here for me.”

It’s tough being a god – especially when you’re a middle-aged, chain-smoking, recovering alcoholic whose chronic womanizing has driven your wife to a heart attack.  Such a  man is Bill Wilson: an icon to millions as the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and a self-centred pain in the neck to his loyal and incredibly long-suffering wife Lois.

Haunted by his past and uncertain of his future Bill finds his semi-mythical status increasingly hard to cope with and, as the play opens, he is contemplating the momentous step of effectively yielding control of AA to its members.

In a St Louis hotel room, on the eve of the historic 1955 convention, Bill and Lois Wilson are bickering. She is trying to live her own life – to look after herself even as she watches over her erratic and infuriating husband.  To that end, she has founded Al-Anon, the self-help organization for families of alcoholics.  She wants to go out and 155022_470861532438_96401722438_5488432_520118_n meet up socially with her Al-Anon friends but Bill plainly wants her to stay with him.  Something has disturbed him.  There is a secret at the centre of the Wilsons’ marriage which only emerges by inches as the play progresses.

There are also emotional wounds buried deep within the man known to millions of recovering alcoholics around the world as ‘Bill W’ – wounds he has to confront directly if he is to stand any chance of having a life worthy of the name . . .

There is a paradox at the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous.  155389_470187017438_96401722438_5478020_6994909_nAlcoholics who finally decide to attend AA meetings – usually as a last resort -  do it for themselves.  They go in the hope of  breaking their dependency on alcohol, and at those meetings they encounter other people with the same problems, who therefore understand what they’re going through.  Those people help them and they in return help others.  They are both paying it back and paying it forward.

When Bill W first met with fellow alcoholic Bob Smith – his AA co-founder – he told him, “I’ve not come here for you,  I’ve come here for me”;  and therein lies the paradox.  It’s mutual self-help born of self-interest.

Given the subject matter, it’s no surprise that One Day at a Time is both painful and poignant.  Less expected however is the warmth and humour of the play, coming not from snappy one-liners but 150026_470187262438_96401722438_5478028_7987114_nfrom the familiar, irritable affection of long-standing relationships between people who genuinely care about each other.

Phil Fox has both a disquieting understanding of what makes people tick and  a  remarkable ear for dialogue.  The play’s action flows smoothly, drawing us quickly into the heart of not only the Wilsons’ complex relationship but also Bill’s damaged psyche.

The staging is refreshingly minimalist, but the period feel is nonetheless authentic.  Most of all, however,  the performances are uniformly excellent.

Cathy Walker’s Lois is a fragile woman with a rod of steel up her spine.  When Bill metaphorically  kicks her in the teeth she is temporarily winded but undiminished, coming back at him with a graphic demonstration of the old saying, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”.  Her palpable love for her wayward husband, right or wrong, is the glue that holds the play together.

Jay Benedict’s Bill Wilson, on the other hand, although physically the stronger, is by far the more vulnerable of the two; a charming, manipulative man-child who wants to be better than he is but doesn’t know how – until the cathartic moment when he finally ODAAT prod 4confronts his hidden pain, in an uncomfortably convincing display of raw emotion.

Meanwhile, in the shadows is Mike Haldon’s staunchly sensible Dr Bob … by turns mentor, tormentor and – in one gloriously surreal scene – song and dance man.  He’s a man bemused, knowing he shouldn’t be where he is, but realizing that he’s there for a reason so he’d better get on with it.  He it is who finally forces Bill to face his demons – leading eventually to AA being given the steerage of its own course, for good or ill.

Theatre really doesn’t get any better than this.  In a theatrical landscape overstuffed with high-tech musicals and tourist-pleasing old warhorses, One Day at a Time slaps you in the face and, what’s more, it makes you think – which is something most people do far too little of.

~~~o~~~

The Outside Edge Theatre Company is the only professional theatre company in the UK that provides theatre and drama work with people affected by addiction.  Once a year it stages a professional theatrical production that tours London.  This year’s was “One Day at a Time”, in which Vulpes Libris’s regular contributor Jay Benedict played Bill Wilson.

You can read an interview with Phil Fox HERE.

(All photographs:  © Katherine Peachey/Outside Edge Theatre Company.)

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12 comments on “One Day at a Time: A play by Phil Fox. Outside Edge Theatre Company.

  1. lisa
    November 28, 2010

    This sounds amazing. I’m so envious that you got to see it, Moira. Where did you see it and how long is it touring for? Sorry if you’ve covered that and I’ve missed it.

    Lovely review.

  2. Moira
    November 28, 2010

    I saw it at the Riverside Studios, Lisa. Tonight is the final night of its limited run, unfortunately. I believe there are a few tickets left if anyone wants to gallop along there.

  3. Dale Sheldrake
    November 28, 2010

    Saw it, and was gradually and persistently enthralled and consumed by it.
    It’s a shame that after weeks of building such high praise and growing audiences, that it will not continue for a longer run. But who can predict success? Certainly not Bill W.

  4. Moira
    November 28, 2010

    Agreed Dale … I understand it’s been playing to full or virtually full houses all this week – with another one tonight. Unfortunately, financial backing – even for productions of the quality of ‘One Day’ – is almost impossible to come by. But keep your fingers crossed: you never know.

  5. renata benedict
    November 28, 2010

    OK I’ve tried to leave a message but it gets erased each time, I wish i could get over to the Play this last night, but maybe if the chances are with us and god wiling the play will go on! Bravo! in any case!

  6. Thomas White
    November 28, 2010

    I am really happy for Jay and the success he has found with this production which finally fills out his feathers and fits his empathic nature in the roll of Bill Wilson. I do so much wish I could see it, and if it were going to continue in production longer I would jump on a plane and get over there. I miss Jay as he is family, I being his stepfather, and its very hard not being alcoholic without him.

    Thoms White,

    Connecticut, USA

  7. Harry B
    November 28, 2010

    Yes. I saw it too. It was recommended to me by a friend and we both thought it was just stunningly good.The two leads in particular played off each other superbly well. But WHY is this the only substantial revue of it anywhere? There was one other but it was so snide the critic didn’t even seem to have been at the same play as everyone else! When you think of the inane junk thats on in the W. End at 4 or 5 times the price you just despair about London’s theatre scene. I really hope the funding is found to take this further. Thanks for one of the best evenings I’ve had at the theatre in a long time and good luck with it.

  8. Gary Dugan
    November 28, 2010

    Agree with all that was said. So happy I got see it whilst in the uk for a short visit. Shame that London doesn’t serve up more of this quality drama, superbly acted. Hope the production gets a break and has the chance to educate more people on what is missing from theatres- true theatre

  9. Hilary
    November 28, 2010

    I’m so glad that, after the terrific interview with Phil Fox, you’ve posted a review of this play, Moira. It sounds like a play that could and should hold its own in the West End, and I do so hope that it gets a longer life somehow. I’d never have thought to find out about this company, or try and get a ticket for this play, so a real eye-opener for me. Wishing the Outside Edge Theatre Company great success and a much higher profile in future.

  10. kazza
    November 29, 2010

    just came to say thankyou. i saw this review yesterday & got a ticket because of it. i’m glad i did. brilliant play and fantastic performances, really worth the trip to h’smith on a cold night. i don’t have much time for the stuff thats on in most of london at the moment but this sounded different and worthwhile and it was. great evening out. glad i saw it & i hope you get the money because it deserves to be seen by a lot more people. thanks a lot!

  11. Theo
    November 30, 2010

    This production sounds brilliant. Is anyone aware of any plans to bring this production to the US? There is a huge and very supportive audience here.

  12. Phil Fox
    November 30, 2010

    We would love to tour One Day At A Time to the US. Unfortunately, what would hold us back is the cost. But you never know…

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This entry was posted on November 28, 2010 by in drama, Entries by Moira and tagged , , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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