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Losers review at Rosemary Branch Theatre, London – ’emotionally engaging’

Sophie Thompson and Rachel Johnson in Losers at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London. Photo: Debbie Y Sophie Thompson and Rachel Johnson in Losers at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London. Photo: Debbie Y

Pitched somewhere between a high-stakes drinking game and an unethical 1950s psychology experiment, Losers explores the contemporary obsession with celebrity. Equipped with handsets for electronic voting, and assured that “no question could be too inappropriate”, the audience is asked to judge four contestants auditioning for reality TV.

The young, committed cast – who devised and designed the production as a dissertation project – play caricatures of themselves, likeable, flawed, and desperate for fame. In a few minutes of pre-show preamble, they each establish a distinct persona, trying out various tactics for winning us over. Arthur Jones, for example, flirts and flatters, while a hyperactive Rachel Johnson hands out signed headshots.

As the performance goes on, and the forfeits for failure become increasingly sadistic, these strategies give way to backstabbing, catty cruelty, and shameless spectacle.

Silly set-pieces – such as a flawlessly executed dance routine to Beyonce’s Single Ladies – slowly segue into outright humiliation, flagellation, and a particularly unpleasant use of a stapler. Buzzers blare and countdowns tick away on omnipresent screens as the performers preen and demean themselves for our approval, literally scrabbling for the spotlight.

All this exhibitionism could easily become grotesque, but Tit4Twat has taken care to make the show emotionally engaging, too. Repeatedly put on the spot, the performers display genuine vulnerability, as well as impressive improvisational skills.

Beneath the scornful satire, this is a surprisingly thoughtful study of the dynamics that drive some to seek fame at any cost, and compel others to watch them try.

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