Festival review: The Life and sort of Death of Eric Argyle; Pleasance Dome (venue 23)

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The choices we make and the arbitrary factors which affect them, and lead to either long-term happiness or being run over by a car as we step off the pavement, are explored with heart and humour in Ross Dungan and 15th Oak Production’s new musical play, following last year’s Fringe First-winning Minute After Midday.

Intricately plotted but playfully executed, it’s a tight piece of storytelling that weaves a tangled love story from the fragmented shards of 58-year-old Eric’s life when he finds himself dead and trapped in a kind of purgatory, undergoing trial. Could he have stopped things turning out this way? Were his decisions in life always the best ones? A court attempts to find out through peering into Eric’s past.

Using musical instruments scattered across the stage, the multitalented cast of eight young Irish performers conjure up a whole community of characters from the dark – the people who filled Eric’s life, when he still had one, or were connected to it in other ways.

A musician struggles to deal with 5,307 letters tumbling onto her doormat; an older woman hoards unread magazines; a young Eric prepares for his best friend’s wedding: like a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture becomes gradually clear.

It’s a piece that requires a certain amount of attention to keep abreast of its multiple timelines, characters and twists – and the courtroom feels like a somewhat convenient device for tying everything together – but the good-natured humour running through Dungan’s writing carries things along. At one point a character asks: “Were you hoping that a static tableau was going to be enough to portray the entire event?”

Perhaps we were, but what we get is something far richer – fluidly directed by Dan Herd, of Soho Theatre – in a way that brings a sense of laid-back ease to the web of stories. While ultimately a tragedy, it’s also a piece that finds a lot of hope in highlighting life’s possibilities should we be brave enough to grasp them.

Rating: * * * *

Until 27 August. Today 12 noon.