The Good Delusion is a superbly realised story and an eminently relatable piece of theatre that delves deep into the concept of ‘goodness’, aspiring to break down what it really means and ascertain why our aspirations so often cause us to break down. And it does so with enviable panache.
From the first moment she steps on stage it’s clear that she’s in her element, deftly handling her audiences and commanding the space. When Tina Sederholm speaks every ear pricks up and all eyes are most certainly on her; the audience interaction draws us in nicely, whilst never distracting from, but instead adding to her overarching narrative. Indeed, the whole show has a whip and pace to it that is always driving towards and building upon her themes, using effective repetition, strong rhythms and a creative turn of phrase to get us there. While the apparent story is a personal one, each anecdote is nicely tied in to the meta-narrative, peeling another wrapper off the confused parcel that is ‘goodness’.
Each of the stories/anecdotes are also good value on their own. From an early story about sneaky sherbet lemons to Sederholm‘s obsession with horse-riding success and her later relationship misadventures. She hits upon repeated cultural milestones, snippets of life that are eminently recognisable and punctuate an ongoing sense of commonality through what is a deceptively complex and philosophical story. A lot of the poems and stories have a nice twist to them, Disney princesses, the Wizard of Oz and the idea of good/evil twins all turn up, keeping each poem refreshing, but also adding another layer to that relatability through these cultural references. All of this highlights what the show does so beautifully: it distils the damaging psychology of treating life as a game you can win if only you act in the right way. Sederholm expertly dissects and subverts societal expectations, exposing a mindset that (to me at least) was very familiar. And there’s a scorching power in affirming that these are thoughts/feelings that many (if not all of us) go through.
And, of course, it’s also a whole barrel full of fun. Sederholm shows a verbal lightness of touch that combines well with a performance full of poise and charm, proving quick with a joke and wry smile and given able assistance in scene changes by the amusing appearance of husband Neil bearing the titles of each chapter (one of several great recurring gags).
There are still a couple of things that jarred slightly; the show’s use of music sometimes seemed unnecessary and perhaps detracted from the show’s focus. The ending lacked a certain emphasis. And very occasionally it felt like there were depths under the surface that weren’t being plumbed as deeply as I might have hoped. But these are very minor quibbles about an otherwise expertly constructed show.
It’s worth mentioning that this is Tina Sederholm‘s second full-length show, following on from the success of the brilliantly inventive (but in my opinion not always brilliantly cohesive) Evie and the Perfect Cupcake, which ran at the Fringe for the last two years and rightfully earned much praise. Where that show fell down for me was that for a piece of work that railed against judgement so powerfully, it strayed too close into an us vs them mentality that undercut its core message of acceptance and didn’t get to the heart of the matter.
The Good Delusion then follows on naturally from Evie and delves deeper, packs more emotional heft, because it gets to the core of the thorny issue of why being ‘good’ is so important and untangles its complex and paradoxical nature with deft mental dexterity, a hefty dose of self-deprecation and a good-sized dollop of fun.
Star Rating: 4/5
The Good Delusion runs from 2-23 August at The Royal Oak, 1 Infirmary Street, off South Bridge, EH1 1LT and is free and unticketed.