If you’re looking for a show with a happy ending, We Were Promised Honey! makes it clear from the outset that this isn’t something they’re going to provide. The audience will get to see into their future – from the immediate (a standing ovation seconds after the show) to the very distant (a romantic reunion in several decades’ time) – but it will end the same way for everyone. Sam Ward is the writer and performer of the show, which is in the middle of a limited engagement at the Soho Theatre.
There are several threads which run through the approximate 65-minute running time, beginning with the real-life story of Richard Russell; he stole a plane from the airport at which he worked in Seattle, but with no malice intended – he simply wanted to put his flight simulator skills to practical use, with his aspirations of betterment at the forefront of his mind. He executes unbelievable manoeuvres and just wants to keep flying a little while longer… Alongside this narrative is Ward’s vision of our future as an audience – one with extended lifespans and an industrial bent, as well as the human desire for connection.
I can’t go on with this review until I’ve raised an important point, however. Though Ward is listed as the ‘lone performer’ in the blurb, that doesn’t mean this is a one-person show – far from it, in fact. For as this is a story of our future, we (the audience) have to assist in bringing aspects of it to life. I do think this is something that should be mentioned in the blurb (“an act of communal storytelling” doesn’t really cut it), as people should be given fair warning that there will need to be a certain level of participation involved – though no one is picked on out of the blue to do anything, the prospect of sitting there in silence for an hour is a special kind of awkward feeling. If you can’t take the pressure of the silence, be warned that by uttering the chosen phrase that allows the show to continue you have volunteered yourself to read or respond further in some way.
Despite the unexpected interactive nature of the show coming as a bit of an unwelcome extra (for me), the idea that we can go through certain scenes and then choose to stop rather than continue to the predetermined unhappy ending is a good one – and ties in neatly with Richard Russell just wanting to keep flying for a little while longer, a little while longer, a little while longer…
Carmel Smickersgill’s sound design and composition includes excerpts of the radio conversation between Richard Russell and air traffic control, which brings this side of the story into stark reality: this thing really happened. It’s incredible and tragic at the same time. Ward conducts the show with empathy and enthusiasm (as well as a quiet surety that things will be able to proceed as planned), ensuring everyone feels at ease in the performance space. An intriguing show with an ending that really is communal theatre in action.
My verdict? An intriguing show that can only end one way – until, perhaps, it doesn’t…
We Were Promised Honey runs at Soho Theatre until 3 December 2022. Tickets are available online or from the box office.