Mike Birbiglia’s solo show perfectly combines comedy with thoughtfulness to offer a new perspective on life.
Thoughtful and moving as well as being outright hilarious, The Old Man and the Pool, Mike Birbiglia’s solo show arrives in London to offer a new perspective on life and certainly leaves the audience with plenty to think about as well enjoy.
Combining theatre with stand up comedy, the show (which is a follow up to Sleepwalk With Me) begins in a doctor’s office in which finds Birbiglia is unable to breathe during a pulmonary function test – which means the doctor is unable to tell if he is having a heart attack or not. During the show other health conditions are revealed, which may make for a serious show, but the way in which the comedian addresses his own mortality balanced with hilarious stories of his own attempts at exercise (you will never think of a swimming pool in the same way again), means it is also extremely entertaining.
On top of this, the audience throughout can tell of his love for his family and you can even hear it in his voice as recounts telling stories to his daughter and writing in his journal with sudden clarity and awareness of time in his life – powerfully captured when he realises that by the time his daughter is 19 he will be 56 – the age that his dad died. These infusions of quietness and powerful statements are dotted throughout cleverly, getting the balance between humour and seriousness just right.
It takes bravery to examine your life in front of people who you have never met before, but it is Birbiglia’s stark honesty that makes it so compelling to watch unfold and he constantly makes you feel as though he is taking you into his confidence which is a real privilege – particularly when he draws in the audience for some playful banter. It all ensues that a serious subject is handled with a lightness of touch and engaging enough to hold the audience’s interest. You really feel every emotion during the course of the show- but you don’t leave the theatre feeling downbeat: if he can make changes to his life you can as well – giving us all hope.
The whole show might be simply staged, but the use of striking blue background, transformed from a swimming pool to showing a chat of how bad his breathing is effectively incorporated into the show, while his movement to illustrate certain points adds extra depth to make you feel as though you are seeing his story through his eyes.
Whether or not you are familiar with Birbiglia’s previous work or not this is a thoughtful and entertaining performance that is easy to sit back and enjoy.
By Emma Clarendon
The Old Man and the Pool continues to play at the Wyndham’s Theatre until the 7th October. You can book tickets here.