Review of Best Before End, Chelsea Theatre, London

Helen Paris is a picture of elegance in this new performance from Curious. In fact, the entire piece is elegantly carved: with deep red furniture, black dresses and classical overtures, it’s the very epitome of a Sunday Times afternoon. Exploring notions of age and the inevitable reduction of life, Best Before End is a touching rendition of what it means to grow older.

The text is gorgeous, rich with poetry and given depth by Paris’ intensity and focus. This particular journey of aging is navigated through the middle-class landscape of cryptic crosswords, the BBC and mountain hikes with armchairs. The poise and control that Paris demonstrates at the very beginning continues throughout the production and, though impressive at times, leaves the performance wanting for a variety of pace and lacking any real dynamism.

At times there are hints of a rebellion beneath the cool, collected surface but sadly this is never brought to the fore. Even when crushing sugarcubes beneath her heels in a climatic dance, her composure is never truly broken. It would have been a relief to see Paris truly lose it here, to access some of that heart-wrenching humanity through actions instead of words. Whilst the beauty of the piece never wanes, the tempo sometimes drags: we are told the “falling will feel a mix of fast and slow” but the show itself doesn’t follow through on this. We are shown the brink and carefully brought towards it but never pushed over it and never fall ourselves: with a bit more courage, this could have been a poetic masterpiece.

Best Before End showed at Chelsea Theatre on 26 – 28 March. It appears at Colchester Arts Centre on 22 May.

Bryony Byrne

Best Before End courtesy of Curious.