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The town of Almost, Maine – a place which ‘doesn’t quite exist’ – appears to be located far closer to Cicely, Alaska than, say, Fargo, Minnesota. It’s a remote place of seemingly near-permanent winter, where the whimsy is deeper than the snowdrifts.
John Cariani’s play – which has been produced many times in the US since 2004, though only now receives its UK premiere care of Go People and the Park Theatre – is made up of nine short vignettes about love. They are the kind of stories in which people carry their damaged hearts around in bags, shooting stars regularly cut through the night sky, and men congenitally incapable of feeling pain suddenly feel a little prickle of sensation at the sight of a pretty girl.
Cariani’s (lengthy) stage directions suggest that ‘cute will kill this play’ and director Simon Evans steers dangerously close to this line at times. But this is less the fault of his approach, which is grounded enough, than writing which can be cloying and over-sugared with little to cut through the sweetness. The play seems to be constantly striving for magic: objects fall from the sky and the aurora borealis flicker overhead, but it all feels a bit forced and mechanical.
Evans, together with designer Amy Jane Cook, manages to capture something of the vast white isolation of the characters’ world on a fringe budget, and there are some capable performances from the cast of six, who together manage to create a whole community. The endearingly gangly Patrick Walshe McBride is a nervy jilted lover in one scene, then a dude on a snow mobile who finally gets lucky with Lucy Eaton’s self-conscious Rhoda. The resulting tangle of thermals and dungarees is a delight. But it’s not quite enough to counter the play’s corny overtones.