“Fill in from the front” Chris Woodley says, as he guides us into the seats of his show. ‘Saturday Night’ by Whigfield plays. I’m transported back to my primary school discos. The whole show also kind of does that, transports me back to being a child/teen as Woodley uses the form of a drama class (the ‘soft subject’) to talk about a big relationship in his life (the ‘love story’).
Woodley’s solo show is an autobiographical one, as he recounts his most life-affirming and prominent relationship to date. Chris takes us through his past by using the same lesson plan he would a drama class. There’s an aim, the intro, the main plan, and the summary/ ‘what have we learnt’ section at the end, linking back to the aim. All of this is written on a suitcase and black box, which also double as the blackboard, placed prominently centre so all of his class – us audience – could see it.
Chris has a good stage presence and I can tell he trained as a teacher. Like I said, I was transported back to sitting in my own drama classes in high school as my teacher would try and make things interesting for me (Chris brings out Little Mermaid dolls, and wears Christmas deely-boppers), but really they’re following a lesson plan.
At points, audience members are pulled up to act out freeze frames or read stage directions, like the ‘star pupils’ in class do when demonstrating a technique. I’m not sure this really works; I think I’d rather see the story acted as an ‘ordinary play’ with set and characters, rather than as a solo recall.
The story itself which Chris was telling was wonderful and really quite emotional at points, but I found myself sitting and thinking, perhaps because of the way it was presented to me, “do I really care?”. The story is, of course, special and personal to the performer, and I commend him for splurging that on stage in front of strangers, but I needed something a bit more to hold onto that makes me think: “that story was worth telling for an hour on stage, and really worth listening to”.
So, in conclusion, and this is probably the shortest/most so-so review I’ve written: ‘The Soft Subject’ is a good show. It’s fun and easy to listen to, and heartwarming in places. But it’s not incredible. It won’t change your life. But maybe it’s not supposed to. That’s alright.