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26th Oct 2023

Somewhere Out There You at the Abbey Theatre is a surprisingly moving romcom

Katy Thornton

abbey theatre somewhere

The definition of a “feel-good” watch.

Somewhere Out There You by playwright and screenwriter Nancy Harris premiered as part of Dublin Theatre Festival and is on a 6 week run at the Abbey – I was lucky enough to catch it on Monday evening, and unlike most of the plays that I have had the chance to see there, I knew next to nothing about this one.

As I sat waiting for the performance to begin, with 1920s style covers of modern classics such as “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga and “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen quietly playing, it became clear that myself and the rest of the audience were about to witness something all about romanticisation.

The Story

After a prologue that will come full circle by the play’s end, we meet Casey, a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder, with a family who won’t let her forget it. At a family gathering, Casey is introducing her new boyfriend in our opening scene, a peppy American called Brett (if this seems like the most stereotypical name that could be chosen, that’s intentional) to her divorced parents, her over-achieving tv personality sister Cynthia and Cynthia’s failed producer husband Eric.

After relaying a meet-cute right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Casey’s family naturally begin to worry when they find out that Brett is not just the new boyfriend, but Casey’s fiancé, which leads Cynthia on a warpath to fill the holes in the plot that have been presented to us.

Set the scene

Initially I found the setting of this play almost too false – I could see the stage hands from where I was sitting in certain scenes, as well as have a full view of props that were yet to be put out. What I didn’t realise was that this, as with anything of the kind throughout this play, is very much intentional. This is a play where all is not as it seems, and this was just one of the few explicit ways of them conveying this to the audience.

In a later scene, the props that were set to convey place such as the Eiffel Tower, the Spire, and more, were wheeled onto set backwards, to fully burn down the illusion of Casey and Brett’s “romance” and hammer home the point that everything we have seen so far is a little left of reality.

Anyone I know who doesn’t like the theatre attributes their disdain because of how obviously “fake” it is, how “over-acted” the performances are, but Somewhere Out There You plays into this element to enrich the story it is trying to tell – if it feels somewhat “unreal”, it’s supposed to.

The Highlight

In my years of attending performances at The Abbey Theatre, while I wouldn’t say I’ve never laughed, it’s certainly not the reaction I expect to have. Despite this play being described as a rom-com, I was anticipating the heavy angst and trauma from a play like Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, or the political themes of Brian Friel’s Translations, and much as I raved about both of those performances, Somewhere Out There You was a breath of fresh air.

The actors’ comedic timing was nothing short of spot on – Danielle Galligan as the faux-concerned Cynthia and Dan Reid as her husband Eric in particular were a laugh a minute.

The play is almost like a Marian Keyes novel for the stage in the sense that we manage to feel a hell of a lot for this bunch of characters in its admittedly quite long 2 hour 45 minute run, an attachment that often doesn’t connect in the theatre.

Overall Thoughts

Nancy Harris’ play premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival, and I truly hope to see its return to a Dublin stage once it finishes up on November 4th.

In fact, Somewhere Out There You has something that many film romcoms have failed to have for many years now – heart. As a lover of the genre, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a new romcom that has made me feeling anything other than second-hand embarrassment, and perhaps that’s down to my age, but this Abbey performance stirred all kinds of emotions, and cringe was not one of them.

What originally comes across as cliche after cliche makes perfect sense once you discover the play’s secret (you’ll just have to book your tickets if you want to discover what exactly it is), with references to Australian soap Home and Away, Gone With The Wind, and more.

In a world where we are constantly told to be ourselves, Somewhere Out There You presents an alternative route, faking it until making it being the more desirable option. Instead of approaching this as cynical, the play instead insists you can reinvent yourself every day if that’s what it takes for you to find who you want to be, where labels can be easily shrugged off, even as society chastises us for attempting to be anything other than exactly who the world believes we are.

While the ending comes across a little exposition-heavy, in an attempt to answer the many, many questions that crop up as you’re watching, I have not left a theatre with that “feel good” emotion that is what had us fall in love with romcoms to begin with in such a long time.

How long is it running for?

Somewhere Out There You is running at the Abbey Theatre until Saturday November 4th, and I implore you to get try to catch it before it leaves.

Header images via The Abbey Theatre website (via Ros Kavanagh)

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