Life According to Saki (4 stars)

Katherine Rundell's debut play infuses unbridled joy with a hint of melancholy

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Life According to Saki

credit: Alex Brenner

Born Hector Hugh Munro on 18th September 1870, the writer better known as Saki plays both storyteller and subject in Life According to Saki. Speaking from a trench on the Western Front, where he was stationed in 1916, David Paisley's warmly charismatic Saki takes the audience on a grand tour of the human condition via his witty, surreal, and emphatically human stories.

Saki's work infuses farcical social situations with a macabre twist: a haughty socialite tangles with an infirm tiger to impress her neighbour, an unfortunate incident with a hyena leads to an opportunity for extortion, and that classic Edwardian antagonist, the fearsome aunt, meets a grisly end at the claws of a sacred ferret.

But the production never fails to qualify this dizzying absurdity with a sobering dose of reality. For Saki, his stories kept him from dwelling on the enormity of life on the front and after each venture into his whimsical world, the action always returns to the trench. In these scenes, there is an encroaching feeling of discomfort, a sense that despite his warmth and stoic humour the horrors of trench warfare are not far away.

Through his tales of the everyday absurdities of Edwardian society, Saki constructs a refuge from the horror of life on the front. Deftly blending joyful surrealism with existential pause, Life According to Saki is a sunny yet poignant celebration of a man who made a fine art of taking the light seriously and the serious lightly.

On top of a sharp script, pacy narrative and a slew of impressively dynamic performances, the production gives the feeling that Hector Hugh Munro, on top of being a keen social commentator, a brave soldier, and a dab hand with a pen, was an all-round lovely chap.

C (Venue 34), 3–29 Aug (not 15), 2.15pm, £8.50–£10.50 (£6.50–£8.50).

Life According to Saki

  • 4 stars

Atticist New play from acclaimed author Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers, The Wolf Wilder, The Girl Savage) inspired by the short stories of Saki. Best described as like Oscar Wilde crossed with Roald Dahl, Saki’s creations are witty, absurd – and peculiarly optimistic. Life, according to Saki, is wild and funny and…

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