Review: How to Make Friends and then Kill Them – ‘brilliantly toes the line between laughing and crying’

Coningsby Productions' three-woman production impresses with its relentless movement and convincing performances

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A blonde actress kneels and holds her right hand up to another persons hand offscreen.
Source: Coningsby Productions

“That was intense,” says the person behind me, as the lights go up on the opening night of this punchy, vaguely traumatic, three-woman show. Following the lives of three young co-dependent women, this dark comedy brilliantly toes the line between laughing and crying. By the second half every laugh is forced out of the audience as the dark themes ultimately overwhelm the humour of the first. This is a show about obsession, manipulation, co-dependence, and just a touch of alcoholism, and Coningsby Productions pull it off staggeringly well.

‘How to Make Friends and then Kill Them’ is a play that demands much of its cast. With scene changes depicting the passage of time between childhood to adulthood, Simone Norowzian (Ada), Imogen Front (Sam), and Saraniya Tharmarajah (Dorrie) do well to keep up with the pace asked of them by director Charlie Rogers. The speed of the show is one of its greatest strengths – it is relentless in its movement through the lives of our ‘protagonists’, and this pace is encouraged by the incessant repetition of lines and leitmotifs throughout the play. All three actresses place ample emphasis on these moments of déjà vu, with the return of the words of Sam and Ada’s alcoholic mother being a salient, chilling example. The last scene of the first half, in which Imogen Front (Sam) is equal parts flawless and terrifying, ends with a bang. She leaves the audience both unsettled and desperate to see where the stories of these three broken women will lead.

Simone Norowzian’s role as Ada, the beautiful, self-obsessed elder sister of Sam, is possibly the most difficult – as the impetus and crux of the tension between Sam and Dorrie, she supports their obsessions as well as her own dreams of being someone that people adore. Simone’s delivery of the line: “I’ll be stuck in this house with no one to love me” is gut-wrenching, and amply illustrates the core drive of Ada’s character. Simone’s performance reaches its height with Ada’s monologue, a pay-off which the audience wait for from the opening scene, and her ability to portray both an intensely unlikable and critically vulnerable character is remarkable.

Saraniya Tharmarajah’s character Dorrie, who becomes attached to the two sisters, is a breath of fresh air in a play that could quickly become oppressively dark. Her facial expressions are a true delight, along with her ‘meditation’, and by the end of the show my allegiances are firmly aligned with her. In the final scenes Saraniya’s ability to capture Dorrie’s innocence without lapsing into being childish is truly impressive, and instrumental in carrying the piece to its dark, gripping conclusion.

Lastly, Imogen Front’s portrayal of Sam, the meek, quiet younger sister of Ada, is going to stay with me for a while. Sam is the character who grows (or mutates) the most over the course of the play, and my initial opinion of her from the opening scene was later viciously torn away. Imogen manages to capture brilliantly the nuances of, possibly, one of the most messed up characters I’ve seen on stage, and she should be immensely proud of her performance.  

The opening night show ran without a hitch, and credit must be given to those backstage and in the technical area, who ensured that the actors on stage had no obstacles to their admirable performances. The uncluttered, slightly dilapidated set design by Deshna Shah perfectly reflects the internal decay of the characters, without bashing the audience around the head screaming “This is a Theme!”.

This is a slick, well-rehearsed play, and Rogers’ eye for detail shines through in the seamless blocking of the characters (especially in the final scene) and direction of his actors. My only criticism is a slight tendency towards overacting, particularly in the first few scenes – however, one can understand this direction as the characters are, at this point in the narrative, children. Whilst not for the faint of heart, Coningsby Production’s offering of ‘How to Make Friends and then Kill Them’ is an effective, chilling piece of drama.

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