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FringeReview UK 2024

Life With Oscar

Arcola Theatre & Golden Idol Productions

Genre: Adaptation, Comedy, Contemporary, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Solo Play, Theatre

Venue: Arcola Theatre Studio 2


Low Down

No, not that Oscar, the other one, the one whom a Mexican young god posed for called Emilio so we should be calling them the Emilios. Nick Cohen’s Life With Oscar – written and performed by him and now directed by Cressida Brown (originally Nicholas Pitt) lands at Arcola. Briefly, till April 20th.

Nick Cohen’s exceptional powers as writer and performer are mesmerising


Nick Cohen’s Life With Oscar written and performed by Cohen and now directed by Cressida Brown (originally Nicholas Pitt), Sound Designer/Composer Jon Quin, Movement Director Jen Fletcher, Producer Jamie Rycroft, Associate Producer Tom Shortland.

Till April 20th


No, not that Oscar, the other one, the one a Mexican young god Emilio posed for. So we should be calling them the Emilios. We can, there’s one here. Nick Cohen’s Life With Oscar – written and performed by him and now directed by Cressida Brown (originally Nicholas Pitt) – lands at Arcola. Briefly, till April 20th.

It’s all true. Which is why you won’t get real names.

Cohen’s Complicité pedigree aches out of him as he gyrates like a demented pelican in the diminutive Studio 2 to raucous laughter, balancing Oscars on a pin dreaming his way to Hollywood. Shout out to movement director Jen Fletcher who helps make a single man so watchable for 70 minutes. And to Jon Quin’s composed soundtrack, where Cohen introduces himself.

What we end with is a more touching origin-story. Cohen as a child pointing out those round the table, Jewish, from different parts of the world.

There’s father David ancestrally from Danzig, once an actor at Grimsby Rep introduced to James Mason, world at his feet: till Nick came, then he became an academic. His mother Eileen once a poet in a school competition… There’s might-have-been for dessert.

There’s a producer who thought he might use Nick in a film as he cavorts to impress. Hard to de-programme young Nick from that. Fame’s a lifelong trauma. The pursuit of it self-abuse.

I’d have liked more of that, though it does curl round at the end as Nick Cohen returns, wiser, from his re-entry capsule out of Hollywood’s stratosphere, a little burned at the edges.

Cohen’s superb at blink-miss accents, brief embodiments of past selves, future sparring-partners: fast-forwarding life through uni and name-dropping. “Jude Law… stealing my girlfriend… Rachel Weiss, naked… stealing my girlfriend….”

Cohen’s early career through small films culminates in one that might get him noticed, if only the title: Vampire Lagoon. It’s the worst film ever Cohen lets us know, but a portal.

That’s how – encouraged with contacts – Cohen goes to Hollywood, makes pratfall gambits when introduced to spiel to the biggest producers. “The weather…”

Cohen relates winningly how he’s behind the curve, and when he does learn, has he the nerve? There’s a producer’s dark-voiced siren daughter Shannon, Cohen’s rendering of whom is a highlight.

Whom he’s instructed to sleep with, after bars with obscene drinks prices, vents that waft in fried chicken to persuade rich young wannabes to pay hundreds for bad fry-ups. Cohen sways in front of a beautiful woman offering herself. What will he do?

He’s Nick Cohen of course. There’s Inner Nick who’s learned his hard-sell approach; another that hasn’t got down to it. Or up to it either.

Strangely having not seen the Complicité reference, I was reminded of Simon McBurney’s devised the kid stays in the picture premiered at the Royal Court in March 2017. It wasn’t that I was plied with a PR pint-glass of white wine that I found it amusing and compelling, though the second half swam by. Referencing real names, real productions, a gallimaufry of bizarre events, this made Hollywood both crazier than you’d imagine, and more grounded.

I miss that here a little, only judging by Cohen’s mesmerising powers as writer and performer. Aware of possible litigation, Cohen is understandably chary; a litigious rep from Hollywood might lurk in the audience.

Cohen’s story is winning, though you wish it might be refracted through his family: Cohen’s family is more engaging than these Hollywood types. A greater detail of just how crazed these people are might help. If it’s litigation Cohen fears, it’s worked by slightly blunting the affect of real monsters swallowing imitation pearls.

Cohen’s Hollywood though is studded with memorable scenes, flits by without a flicker of routine – and that’s the audience. He’s continually inventive, pirouettes on an imagined axis as he pivots away from some Hollywood faux-pas.

There’s initial interaction too. That might be threaded throughout. And those sad parental – and their friends’ – voices, brought back to break in on the perfect sunshine of a spotless Bedlam. I hear them still, behind Cohen’s admonitory shrug, as he conjures a dazzling pedigree of disappointment.