Reviews of Californian Lives
2013 Production
Review highlights
We suggest you read several reviews to get the general reaction to the production. Most reviewers thought the acting was excellent; a few were less impressed. Most reviewers thought the stories and writing were thoughtful and well-crafted; a few did not agree. Most liked the direction, a few did not. Although there were dissenters, the general consensus was that Californian Lives was a production that was well worth seeing. Warning - some reviews give spoilers

The Good
generally loved it

British Theatre Guide
Broadway World
Entertainment Focus
The Gay UK
Hackney and Islington Gazettes
One Stop Arts
Plays To See
The Public Review
The Upcoming
Views from the Gods
West End Wilma
The Indifferent
but some good things to say

Backstage Pass
Bargain Theatreland
Everything Theatre
Remote Goat
West End Frame

The Bad
they hated it


As home to Tinsel Town California appears splashed across our glossy magazines and TV screens every day. To the humble Brit, America's third largest state appears to be full of beautiful people on beautiful beaches with beautiful lives and their own beautiful pet therapists. But beyond the superficial hub of Hollywood glitz California is full of people in domestic settings with thoroughly routine existences. In Martin Foreman's triple monologue production we hear from three California locals each with their own personal story to tell. It is the familiarity and intimacy of these stories which make them all the more remarkable.

Foreman's writing intelligently explores three very contrasting lifestyles; the well developed characters are divided by gender, sexuality and most notably by age. Our cast also vary in their geographical locale which illustrates the vastness and complex demographic system of California. No names are exchanged, we simply happen upon our first speaker in a diner as he tucks into a burger after a long day at the office. The 34 year old divorcee played by Robin Holden is a slave to his work and thwarted ambition has left him bitterly defensive. Despite his rather chauvinistic outlook this young bureaucrat dreams of love and a new life. Throughout the monologue his bristly New Jersey exterior slips, revealing a rather wistful tenderness by the time he starts on his cheesecake.

Direction by Emma King-Farlow is sensitive and progressive; each piece is gradually built up with varying levels of tension leaving the audience eager to know what happens next. Our second anonymous character greets the audience with an enquiry: "You ever go to Ben and Joes?" Before describing a gay bar with a faded flamingo on the door and a 23 year old bartender called Richard. Each afternoon for a few hours to our speaker and other middle aged men, this bar becomes home. John Vernon plays a highly astute and gentle character, twirling his cocktail straw as he regales us with tales of his fellow patrons. This particular monologue was a wonderful exploration of how the party lifestyle of LA becomes unwelcoming and even undesirable as we advance in years. The quiet routine of Ben and Joe's afternoon crowd is cosily familiar, but a new addition to the group means prejudice and repressed grievances rear their ugly heads.

Carol Lyster delivers the final monologue of the evening: a woman in her sixties watching the sun set over the California mountains as she talks to her husband David. As the sky reddens she looks back over their life together; their first date on a roller-coaster and their wedding day. Wandering around her living room and straightening the sofa cushions, she recalls becoming a mother and the reality she wasn't expecting. A life full of ups and downs, sadness and joy and most of all, a life full of love which has made it all an incredible ride. Lyster is very subtle, speaking offhandedly but with a wealth of underlying emotion.

This is a beautifully perceptive production, celebrating the individuality of experience and the significance of each life led.

Gillian Fisher, WhatsPeenSeen, seen 26 April 2013

contains spoiler

Three ordinary Californians tell their stories over three half-hour monologues: that's the umbrella theme of California Lives, now showing at the wonderful King's Head Theatre in Islington.

The street and road names of LA, familiar to UK audiences from American films and TV, hold a certain romanticism. This is neatly inversed in the first monologue, in which Robin Holden (whom we've seen a few times, most recently as the lead in Oedipus) plays a weary travelling salesman who is sick to death of traffic jams on the freeway. Sighting a young woman he takes an instant liking to (he doesn't just want to screw her, he wants to talk to her and marry her too) he drives out of his way each day to forge contact with her. But will a date with her really be the answer to his prayers?

Holden's performance is suitably masculine - he growls and hits the table as he tries to think through his issues - and he neatly captures the fate of a Neanderthal-like man, lost in the modern world, deprived of purpose as a male, and deeply misogynist without even realising it. You'd pity him if it weren't for Holden's brave choice to tap into the inherent ugliness of the character.

The second monologue is also told from a male point of view, though the characters couldn't be more different. John Vernon plays a middle-aged gay man, who tells us about how the introduction of a young black male to his group nearly cost them their friendships. Vernon is an immediately warm presence on stage, and a great storyteller, adopting a range of consistent voices to create each character in his story. His flair for comedy is evident too, it's this instalment that offers the most laughs (and you're laughing with Vernon's character, rather than at him, as in the case of Holden). The writing is also at its tightest here.

Rounding out the trilogy is Carolyn Lyster, who recounts the ups and downs of her long marriage, and what it has meant to be a mother, a wife and a housewife. Lyster gives a vulnerable and emotional performance.

All three pieces are beautifully written by Martin Foreman, though it's John Vernon's story that emerges as the most engrossing. The final piece doesn't quite ring true, perhaps because it uses watching the sunset as a framing device, which, whilst universally popular, is in literary terms a touch clichéd. It also suffers from having too many competing ideas. The strength of the first two monologues is the focus on single issues.

California Lives neatly encapsulates three different but readily identifiable strands of the same society. Emma King-Farlow's direction is to be commended for its lightness of touch. She's unafraid to allow the actors to tell the story without lots of unnecessary movement - and the stillness she creates benefits the writing and performances.

Whilst the actors are all terrific and the writing has much to commend, monologues are a hard sell, since they lack the dramatic impetus of even two characters interacting; and they are also strongly associated with end-of-term drama school showcases. It takes a genius (like Alan Bennett) to turn the monologue form into something universally accessible and engrossing. Having said that, if you have a particular bent towards solo performances or monologues, you may find much to enjoy in California Lives.

Greg Jameson,, seen 23 April 2013

Our comments: overall a welcome review, but a surprising conclusion - the commentary suggests three or four stars out of five but the reviewer only gave it two. He also got the title of the play wrong and misunderstood what was happening in one of the monologues (we won't say which so as not to spoil it for those who have not seen the production).

Love can be fleeting or love can last a lifetime. It can take the form of companionship or a soulmate attachment. It can come and it can go - and it can even come back. Love gained and lost is the unifying theme behind Martin Foreman's three monologues, Californian Lives (at The King's Head until 26 May).

In Los Feliz, Robin Holden is all alpha-male wannabee, angry at his divorced wife, angry about his career prospects and angry about the person he has become - a classic American slob. He spies from his car, falls for and subsequently stalks (but not too obviously) a beautiful woman whom he succeeds in taking on a date - only to find that she has some half-truths to match his. Robin Holden convinces as a man with enough intelligence to be self-deprecating, but not enough to see that he has to settle some debts to the past before he can move to the future.

Ben and Joe's is the hangout for a group of ageing gay men, meeting every afternoon to chew the fat, watch old movies on the bar's TV and gaze at the 23-year-old resting actor serving up the G and Ts and margaritas. The acquisition of a young black boyfriend by one of the gang brings issues of race and
motive into the open and divides friend from friend - forever. John Vernon tells his tale with wit and a sense of joy at the life he once had - and a sense of resignation that it was lost in such petty squabbles rooted in the stubborn prejudices of men who know better.

Sunset sees Carolyn Lister tell the tale of a marriage. Once all girlish infatutation, it soured as she turned to motherly duties, but was reborn as she discovered her identity as a woman and her husband got too old to chase anyone else. More hopeful than the other two narrators, Ms Lyster's warmth fills the cold space of imminent death with the vitality of life. She rounds off three splendidly understated, yet utterly convincing, portraits of love in California's emotional desert.

Director Emma King-Farlow has worked with the writer's adaptations of his own three short stories to get plenty of theatre into the texts. In a venue that is always intimate, placing the audience on three sides of each set makes every hesitation, every twitch, every wistful glance, all the more powerful - more impressive still in the hands of actors who know that when it comes to works like this, less is always more.

Gary Naylor,, seen 24 April 2013

The interior lives of three very different Californians take centre stage at The King's Head theatre this month in Martin Foreman's 'Californian Lives'.

Foreman's three monologues, each 30 minutes long, are based on short stories from his book 'First and Fiftieth' and translate seamlessly to a theatrical setting.

In the first piece, 'Los Feliz', Robin Holden plays a salesman in a diner off the freeways of Los Angeles. As he tells the story of meeting the 'woman of his dreams', a lifetime's worth of regret and lost dreams bursts forth, but as with all of these tales nothing is what it seems and the unexpected denouement is impeccably timed and crafted.

John Vernon is superb as an older gay man in the second monologue, which focuses on a group of gay men whose lives are interrupted by the arrival of a much younger man at their local bar 'Ben and Joe's'. Vernon's slow, thoughtful delivery aches with nostalgia for youth, but also the world weary wisdom of age, which we learn by the end of the piece is a double edged sword.

But the standout performance of the night comes from Carolyn Lyster as a middle aged woman reflecting on her husband and family, in her home. It's a remarkably subtle, emotionally charged performance that leaves the audience transfixed in silence.

'Californian Lives' is a masterclass on the art of the monologue. Foreman's incisive writing demonstrates expert use of pacing as he slowly peels back the complex layers of his characters to reveal the frailities of human experience. It makes for a profoundly moving evening.

Alex Hopkins, Beige, seen 25 April 2013

Issues surrounding love and trust are often explored in a variety of ways, but this powerful and original production written by Martin Foreman and directed by Emma King-Farlow has brought something entirely new to the table. A series of three monologues, Californian Lives looks at what it really means to three very different characters living three very different lives.

In the first piece, Los Feliz, performed intensely but very well by Robin Holden, a young man falls in love with a beautiful woman and concocts an entirely fictional life in order to get close to her. As he weaves his tale, the initially unlikeable character reveals his insecurities and gradually draws the audience closer to him. Holden commands the stage extremely well and holds the audience's attention throughout; something that is inherently difficult in a monologue.

Ben and Joe's is a look into the lives of a group of mostly middle-aged men who while away their afternoons in a San Fernando Valley bar, united in their lust for the young barman who flirts expertly with each of them. A new arrival, Christopher, shakes their easy existence and causes a rift between the men as each of them is forced to confront their own prejudices. This difficult subject is delivered expertly by John Vernon who held the audience captivated throughout his performance.

Finally, the evergreen treat that is Carolyn Lister brought an instant warmth and dose of humour to Sunset with her portrayal of a grandmother reminiscing to her husband on the long life they have shared together, with its succession of highs and lows. On the surface, her story is one of a very traditional marriage, but this is soon revealed to be a somewhat thin veneer as this apparently timid character reveals a strength and resilience initially unseen.

Californian Lives is no light-hearted feel-good piece, and not one for the faint-hearted. It is, however, exactly the kind of emotionally-charged and thought-provoking theatre that we need to see more of in this age of Disney-esque expectations.

Robin Foreman-Quercus, The Gay UK, seen 24 April 2013

With the audience seated around the performance area, this is a collection of monologues which effectively become intimate one-way conversations. Three experienced and accomplished actors play very different unnamed characters linked only by the fact they they are residents of California.

Firstly Los Feliz, which opens with the character, a travelling salesman who claims to know every road in the State, sitting in a roadside diner finishing his burger and beer. He reflects that this makes a change from pizza and cola in his solitary apartment. He is 34 and he describes a life dominated by a routine but demanding job in which the only prospect for improvement is early retirement. He goes on to tell of a failed marriage, alienation from his daughter and his obsession for a woman who he knows to be out of his league. Playing him, Robin Holden is completely convincing, making him outwardly brash and macho but also giving us glimpses of his low self-esteem and his resignation to being one of life's losers.

Bennie and Joe's is a reflection on life in a gay bar of that name where the character is a regular amongst the afternoon clientele. He is in late middle age, overweight and the others at the bar are either similar or younger men who aspire to Hollywood stardom; together they drink, gossip and flirt with the handsome barman before going home to "a lover, a pet or a memory". He is describing a type of family wrapped up in its own concerns and looking on newcomers and passers-through with great suspicion. He talks only of events affecting the others and his own life outside the bar remains a mystery. John Vernon plays him as laid back and cynical, relishing his catty observations and lapsing into a slight stutter at points of tension in the story.

Finally, Sunset sees an elderly lady chatting to her absent husband as sunset approaches in the day and perhaps in her life. She remarks on how sad it is that sunsets must always come to an end and remembers her youthful exuberance when first meeting him, the only real love of her life. However, she believes that it was because he later began seeing her as "his homemaker and sour-faced mother of his children" that he entered into a series of infidelities. She responded with a brief affair of her own, but eventually the couple were drawn back together to spend eight blissful years of retirement in the Californian Hills. Carolyn Lyster gives the most touching of the performances, animated and excited when describing the early days, but becoming wistful and melancholy as the story progresses.

These monologues are about small lives and, with no dramatic high points, they are low-key and understated. However, each being of the perfect length, fine descriptive writing and skilled acting ensure that our attention never wanders.

Stephen Bates, The Public Reviews, seen 24 April 2013

As America's most densely populated state, logic dictates that California is home to many different, interesting people. Martin Foreman imagines just three, completely unconnected to each other, and writes a monologue for each in his new piece, Californian Lives.

A few lines from Sinatra's rather melancholic I'll Never Be The Same introduces each piece, with Robin Holden kicking off Los Feliz. Holden takes on the role of a travelling salesman, relating how he met the woman of his dreams, after one failed marriage behind him. Typically macho, uncomfortably suited and booted, he sits in a cafe dissecting both the remainders of his meal and his love life.

With the theatre set up in thrust, director Emma King-Farlow initially positions Holden at the far end of the stage, but has him wander to the front every so often to pour himself a refill from the drinks counter there. It's a natural way of allowing the whole audience to see the actor up close and witness the intensity of his emotions. King-Farlow repeats the same trick for the other two monologues, which are set in different locations, but also use the full length of the stage similarly.

Breaking the production with two intervals allows the audience to regroup after each piece. The middle is perhaps the least hard-hitting, but John Vernon does his speech justice, and it has the honour of being the least predictable. He takes us away from the freeways and built up estates of California and into a gay bar propped up by ageing men. Upon studying the synopsis of Californian Lives, I was immediately wary when noting it was comprised of three intimate thirty-minute monologues. I felt it was a bold choice of production to stage, thirty minutes is a long time to keep an audience engaged as a solo actor. It's intense from both sides; for the actor everything is reliant on you, there is no-one to bounce off. For the audience, there's no distraction from the lone actor.

The final monologue belongs to an old grandmother (Carolyn Lyster), addressing her first love, as she reminiscences about the ups and downs of their long marriage and it is the highlight of the production. It feels like the most personal story. The barfly in Vernon's Ben and Joe's talks of the impact a young stranger has on one of his friends, but the grandmother here is talking openly and honestly about her own heart, and furthermore the stage is reset as her own home. Little touches in the set design foreshadow her tale, which is another well-considered move from King-Farlow.

As the lights gradually dim throughout Sunset, Lyster reaches an emotional conclusion and rounds off the night on a powerful note.

Ultimately though, the three monologues are all about something and nothing. Their characters are linked only by geography, the universal theme of love and the bittersweet, All-American romanticism of Kerouac. The man in the diner, the man in the bar and the woman at home all hail from different walks of life, but this makes them no less and no more vulnerable to the same joys and heartaches. Martin Foreman's words certainly move us, but he doesn't cover any new ground. He writes beautifully, and we firmly believe if he came up with a fresh idea, he could pen something quite special, rather than quite good.

Californian Lives is an intense, emotionally-charged piece, which doesn't take us anywhere we haven't already been, but that does take us there with considerable style.

three stars, from unnamed reviewer, Views from the Gods, seen 10 May 2013

Upon studying the synopsis of Californian Lives, I was immediately wary when noting it was comprised of three intimate thirty-minute monologues. I felt it was a bold choice of production to stage, thirty minutes is a long time to keep an audience engaged as a solo actor. It's intense from both sides; for the actor everything is reliant on you, there is no-one to bounce off. For the audience, there's no distraction from the lone actor.

However, Martin Foreman's Californian Lives doesn't fail to hit the mark. It's a tale of love, life and loneliness, introspective and honest, putting the happenings of every-day life into sharp focus. It features three unnamed Californians at different stages of life - young(ish), middle-aged and old. Two of the monologues were featured in part of four which Martin submitted to the 2012 Solo Festival, earning him the festival's yearly New Writing Award.

Martin Foreman is an established author and editor of fiction and non-fiction, as well as an actor himself. The performance is delivered in a small and suitably basic space beyond the bar in The King's Head.

The first act depicts Robin Holden as a 'typical American guy', a travelling salesman with a failed marriage behind him. He claims to be, or have been, "all mouth and balls". He talks frankly to the audience about himself, offers questionable relationship advice, and recites an anecdote which may or may not be perceived as romantic. His brash, animated delivery does well to project his frustration and cynicism, displaying his bitterness, in particular to the female indifference of his romantic advances.

Next up John Vernon is excellent in his portrayal as an elderly, overweight homosexual - completed with a pair of 'shades' tucked into the collar of his t-shirt. He reminisces about afternoons whiled away in the run-down gay bar of a desert town. Vernon alternates between his character's thick accent and quirky impressions of fellow drinkers, adding variation and humour. He brings these characters to life, almost creating the impression of more than one man on the stage. Vernon only speculates about life within the bar. The piece tells of the growing sense of claustrophobia amongst the regulars. The realisation that they have nothing in common apart from loneliness and sexuality. The ensuing events play on stereotypical prejudices such as race and age, vocalised by a group who are themselves discriminated against for their sexual preferences. The script for this section struck me as particularly well written.

The performance is brought to a close with Carolyn Lyster's intense emotional finale. This last act features an aged woman viewing the sunset, which carries the obligatory 'end' metaphor. She comes to terms with her life and reflects on the passage of time, dealing with the inevitability of death and deterioration in herself and those around her. Suffice to say that the performance had at least one audience member sobbing.

Displaying highs and lows, featuring mixed themes of unhappiness, love, bitterness and transience, Californian Lives is by no means light-hearted or particularly easy-viewing, but it is worth watching.

I left the venue feeling sad but thoughtful. You probably won't walk out smiling, but this production will definitely make an impact.

Oliver J Weinfeld, Plays To See, seen 24 April 2013

Martin Foreman's play consists of three monologues, two of which were first performed at the 2012 Solo Festival of one-man shows.

The common theme is that of relationships, their highs, their lows and their complications.

In Los Feliz, Robin Holden plays a salesman and rep who lives a fairly lonely existence; a prisoner of the freeway as he moves from one client to the next. We find him eating alone in a diner where he recounts the story of his failed marriage and his encounter with a "dream woman" who he believes will be his escape from a mundane world.

Ben and Joes's features John Vernon as a regular at a gay bar where he spends the "afternoon shift" shooting the breeze with assorted friends in playful bonhomie until a stranger upsets the balance and brings out hidden prejudices.

In the final piece, Sunset, Carolyn Lyster plays a middle-aged woman recounting the good and the bad moments (mostly bad) of a marriage in the wake of a tragedy.

All three monologues are generally well played by the actors, who created believable characters. However, I didn't always feel I wasn't making the emotional connection that was expected of me.

The stand-out for me was Vernon, who told his story with personality and a lovely ability to switch voices when quoting the bar's assorted characters - we even had a delicious little Jimmy Stewart impersonation.

Martin Foreman's writing sparkles at times and is shot through with wry humour and an air of melancholy. Again, it's in the John Vernon piece where this really shines as he describes one of his fellow customers pursuit of a young man as "trying to ward off middle-age with Viagra and dollar bills".

I found things to like in all three of Foreman's monologues, but sadly not in equal measure. If you're lucky enough to make a connection with all of the characters, Californian Lives could be an enjoyable evening. If not, it makes for a rather uneven watch.

Tony Peters, West End Wilma, seen 25 April 2013

The reviewer awards us three out of five stars.

The idea of presenting a series of contemporary dramatic monologues as an evening's entertainment has long graced our stages. The 1991 stage première of Alan Bennett's television series Talking Heads springs to mind-a 'very satisfying evening of theatre' according to one Broadway critic-as well as Eve Ensler's exploration of the feminine experience through The Vagina Monologues in 1996.

Both the writing and the actor's theatrical delivery of the narrative monologue is no easy task. We might expect exposition, clear character development, dramatic tension and, above all, a gripping story and there is an admirable attempt in Martin Foreman's Californian Lives-an evening of three monologues about three Californian characters-currently playing at the King's Head Theatre.

Derived from First and Fiftieth, a collection of short stories also by Foreman, Californian Lives tenderly concerns itself with perennial themes of nostalgia and reminiscence. The marketing material for the show questions 'how well do you know those who are closest to you?' and, notwithstanding each monologue's consideration of the human capacity to deceive and betray in some form, it also becomes, in Emma King-Farlow's gentle production, a piece about memory, love and the desperate desire to feel the open arms of home.

We encounter a self-assured salesman (Robin Holden) intent on meeting the woman of his dreams, a humble older man (John Vernon) who appreciates the quiet familiarity of Ben and Joe's bar, and an amicable grandmother (Carolyn Lyster) who affectionately summons a past existence with her husband 'when life was exhilarating'.

For the salesman in Los Feliz, his first date with Melanie 'began to feel like home'; for the older man in Ben and Joe's where 'life was quiet and quiet was good', the bar 'had been, almost, our home' whilst for the grandmother, home had been a haven in which she could enjoy the sunset (effectively mirrored in the subtle hues of lighting). The very essence of home is placed in jeopardy when each world is disturbed by an outsider. It is here that our narrators truly become of interest as they wrestle with their own memories deciding what to keep secret, and what to reveal.

While there are thematic links and touches that bind the plays-for example, each character takes comfort from sipping their own personal drink-each monologue appears to stand more as its own work rather than an imperative part of an inseparable trio. This is underlined in the production which has two intervals, and while this does mean the evening never truly achieves a sense of momentum, it ensures each piece is given the opportunity to pack its own punch.

Despite a couple of questionable accents, there are carefully considered performances throughout. Holden suppresses the insecurity of the salesman behind a macho jokey knowingness whilst Vernon's older man is instinctively warm and engaging. Lyster imbues the grandmother with a heartfelt sensitivity though the indirect nature of the second-person narrative renders it the least effective of the trio.

King-Farlow directs with a light touch and places the focus on the performances. While the rustic production values service this fringe version well, there is room for a more effective use of design in physical production, light and sound. However, the thrust stage provides a level of intimacy that ensures a natural engagement with the stories that are told.?

Greg Charles, British Theatre Guide, seen 1 May 2013

Click on the logos above for the three-star review, which appeared in both papers; be aware that it contains spoilers.

contains spoiler

Californian Lives comprises three monologues; stories which have been lifted from Martin Foreman's First and Fiftieth and other stories, and dramatised accordingly.

The first is entitled "Los Feliz" (trans. "The Happy") - where we see a man (anything but happy) finishing off a sandwich the size of his face in an American diner whilst mulling over romantic endeavours and failed relationships.

Robin Holden's performance demands attention. The actor has a strong sense of stage presence and practically radiates energy. Holden carries the monologue well: the pace doesn't slack and he remains committed to the text throughout. There's a clear sense of character too - thanks to the seamless combination of natural writing and strong acting.

Saying that, the monologue itself - as in the words on the page - doesn't really consist of anything special or new; it all sounds quite familiar and, although it might be a story that resonates, it isn't particularly thought-provoking.

Under Emma King-Farlow's direction, it's unclear who this man (Robin Holden) is addressing. As the piece kicks off, Holden appears to direct speech towards the audience. However, it soon becomes clear that we are not to interact and test this "man" on road routes across the States (I came close to shouting out a suggestion; thank goodness I didn't - could have been awkward). So then, we probably guess he's talking to the other customers in the diner. If this is the case, it's a somewhat limited artistic choice because it's perhaps unrealistic to suggest that so many customers (the character's eyes dart around suggesting there are multiple fellow diners actively listening to the tale) would listen to a half hour's worth of self-indulgent chat. It's not clear and we don't get a good sense of time or place. Aside from the accent and unlimited coffee, I wouldn't be able to guess we were in California.

A better unity of time and place is communicated in the second piece: "Ben and Joe's" (no need for a translation). As Man In Bar (John Vernon) slides his sunglasses across a table and begins speaking in a charming American drawl, we can tell we're in the States - we can also sense the sun and feel the heat.

However, I spent the whole monologue believing it was set in the man's garden - and figured he was addressing his next-door neighbour. But I've since learned (thanks to the programme) that the piece is actually set in a bar, probably a crowded one at that - and I failed to pick that up. I guess it doesn't matter that much but it's another example of where the direction didn't really gel with the intention.

There's no doubt that John Vernon is a brilliant actor. He is a very natural and confident performer possessing a great command of language. Vernon manages to make every character depicted in the story distinct, even though there are so many of them to build and convey.

This is a backhanded compliment to the piece as a whole, but Vernon also manages to make a boring story as interesting as it possibly could be. Essentially, it's about a load of friends in a gay bar and how their relationships change over time. Nothing much happens. When you commit to following a story, you want it to satisfy your investment and there's not a dramatic payoff.

Finally, we witness a doughy eyed housewife talking to her husband. I guessed from the start that he was probably dead - and this did transpire to be the case. This is an example behind my declaration that the writing is a bit predictable. It is quite a touching story but one I feel I've heard before; unsatisfied housewife, affairs, loveless marriage, tired hearts, the reality of grief, and so on.

Once again, the acting is formidable. Carolyn Lyster carries the material well; her performance is poignant and her character well crafted. Saying that, I didn't connect to the piece or feel particularly moved by the end. That was not the case for all members of the audience - one lady in particular was crying her eyes out by the curtain call, so perhaps the story resonates with some and not with others.

Although the writing feels organic, and despite the pieces being very well acted, the monologues aren't particularly gripping or original. Californian Lives didn't particularly float my boat, but I can appreciate strong production values when I see them and the writing - aside from the dreary content - is reflective of real life and builds a vivid picture of the minds we find our way into. Three ordinary Californians tell their stories over three half-hour monologues: that's the umbrella theme of California Lives, now showing at the wonderful King's Head Theatre in Islington.

Jo Sutherland, One Stop Arts, seen 25 April 2013

Our comment: the reviewer mixes strong positive with negative comments and ends up giving three out of five stars.

For anyone expecting a Californication-style entertainment, the opening words of Californian Lives boded well. The 'Man in diner' in the first of the evening's three monologues (Los Feliz) by Martin Foreman started promisingly by enquiring about 'threeways'. But, what turned out to have piqued his interest was not sexual but, after several repetitions, in fact 'Freeways' - those American Inter State highways, one of which had led Diner Man past the front door of an attractive woman, ripe for dating by his delusional, divorced Office Consultant.

A traffic diversion had taken him into her neighbourhood and the sight of her had fired his imagination: unrealistically, as it turns out, in view of his dreams of sharing future happiness with an unknown woman totally out of his modest league.

This is the weakest of the trio of monologues: the writing fails to deliver a character in whom one can sustain an interest (not helped by Robin Holden's transient American accent) and, with traverse staging encouraging the audience to get up close and personal, there is little room to disguise inadequacies on either front.

As 'Man in bar' John Vernon is given considerably more meat - in every sense of the word - to play with: an ageing afternoon habitué of Ben and Joe's gay bar (boasting a décor almost as tired as its elderly clientele) his is an attractive personality right from the get-go. And, whilst the writing is not as vivid as, say Tennessee Williams, Foreman and Vernon create a credible portrait of a certain kind of gay man whose social life revolves around the gossip and forced gaiety of bar life and the 'tricks' that
regularly come and go into their lives.

An added frisson is provided by the games that everyone plays with a handsome young barmen whose presence has such an influence on the outcome of this story: at the end of Ben and Joe's, the bar may have closed, but the foibles of its patrons live on.

In 'Sunset' the enduring - albeit bumpy - marriage of Carolyn Lyster's 'Woman' has survived the hopes and disappointments of a rocky 40- year relationship. Facing up to the reality of her husband's affairs and battling against the stereotypical 'place' of a woman in post-60s society, she has to fight to make her mark in a male-dominated world. Which, as a successful realtor in her own right, she eventually manages to do.

Ms Lyster plays her with a forbearing forgiveness, tempered by a winning wistfulness and the final touching scene as she tenderly ministers to her husband's last needs end the evening on a heart-tugging high.

Clive Burton, Theatre World, seen 24 April 2013

Playwright and actor Martin Foreman's monologues are an intimate study into the lives of three people living in California. The first is a young man in his 30's, sitting alone in a diner. Speaking with a broad New Jersey twang, he tells us about his attitudes towards women, including his failed marriage and his inability to relate to his six year-old daughter. One day, while driving through a suburban area, he sees a beautiful woman in her garden and becomes immediately infatuated. He shows his appreciation for her in a self-styled epithet: "A bimbo you screw, a babe you talk to a bit, then screw, a woman you love".

Despite his thinly veiled misogyny and arrogance, Robin Holden's portrayal of the character leaves you pitying rather than despising him. Opening night jitters could be to blame for his reluctance to pause for too long, but the barrelling pace keeps you interested. Foreman's diction and phrasing seems a natural choice for this brash character and, even if Holden's accent sometimes veers slightly off-course, the actor is a powerful force on stage.

The second monologue, played by John Vernon, is the highlight of the night. Vernon plays an older Californian man, reminiscing about time spent with other "creatures of habit," the regulars of a gay bar. When a friend brings a black acquaintance into the fold, prejudices come to light after a crime is committed. Vernon is a professional, so completely at ease in the imagined space of the bar that you see it vividly through his eyes. He pulls the audience with him through the story, never losing momentum or their attention. He is a great imitator, switching through the variety of nasal voices and accents of the other punters, and drawing both humour and pathos out of the writing.

The final monologue, played by Carolyn Lyster, is different to the others. Lyster plays a lonely old woman speaking to her dead husband - a fact that is instantly apparent and not the great reveal that it was perhaps intended to be. This monologue is overtly dramatic yet predictable while the others are quietly intense and surprising. Lyster's monotone voice lacked the impulsion of the previous portrayals and was a weepy finale to an overall enjoyable night.

Catherine Bennett, The Upcoming, seen 24 April 2013

There must be nothing more exhilarating for a performer than to be surrounded by a captive audience. Director Emma King-Farlow's decision to produce California Lives in the round makes sense in terms of the tone of the play, but it doesn't necessarily work in practical terms.

In California Lives, Martin Foreman's writing lays bare the lives of three very different Californians in a collection of monologues which present perspectives of modern day America from three different life-stages: young adulthood, middle-age and old-age.

The first monologue, 'Los Feliz', sees a chauvinistic divorcee (Robin Holden) sitting in a roadside diner finishing a burger and a beer. He notes the difference in routine this is for him, usually sitting at home eating a burger and a coke. The man ponders his insecurity surrounding his mediocrity and blandness - at thirty-four, what has his life become but a routine dominated by his demanding job. It is a story of dissatisfaction with the rat-race and a reflection on the failure we can make of our life if we make the wrong decisions.

The second monologue, 'Ben and Joe's' is a reflection on life in a gay bar and is the most convincing performance of the evening. Reminiscence is the subject we are pondering along with this character (John Vernon). The tone of this piece is more conversational and feels as though Vernon is talking to us, rather than at us. The play shows that generational and racial prejudices can rip apart communities, in this case a local gay bar serving as an example for society, and lead to their eventual downfall. It's both bitchy and funny and the easiest for a gay audience to relate to.

The final play, 'Sunset', interrupts an older woman just after her husband's death. As sunset approaches - a rather simple analogy for approaching death, she remarks on how sad it is that sunsets must always come to an end. She remembers her youthful exuberance when first meeting her husband, the only real love of her life. Carolyn Lyster gives the most touching of the performances, energetic and thrilled when describing the early days, but wistful and melancholic as the story progresses. However, the repetitive use of a rollercoaster analogy is both clichéd and obvious, ultimately rendering it ineffective.

The choice to stage the production within the audience was bold, but for much of the audience most of the dialogue was coming from the back of the actors' head. When delivering intimate dialogue made up of private and candid thoughts, the micro-expressions of the face are important to be able to get a real sense of emotion from an actor.

The thoughts these characters share with us are decidedly first-world. It's easy to connect with their everyday thought processes, concerns and musings as they are ones most of us have regularly. But it was difficult at times to see how this really makes good theatre. It comes down to taste.

Jamie Clarke, SoSoGay, seen 24 April 2013

Our comment: Clarke gives the production more stars (1.5 for costume / set, 3 for performances and 3.5 for writing and direction) than this review suggests.

The successful delivery of a one-act, one-person play is difficult to achieve and this series of three disconnected monologues, written by Martin Foreman, is unfortunately indicative of this. The evening, entitled 'Californian Lives', presents perspectives of modern day America from three different life-stages: young adulthood, middle-age and old-age. The setting of California seems arbitrary; these stories are universally first-world and the location should not be seen as the connecting seam the evening's title suggests.

The first play, 'Los Feliz', tells of a chauvinistic divorcee and his encounter and pursuit of new love. Robin Holden gives an overly-masculine performance of a man who is at once sure-footed in his opinions and individuality and also insecure about his mediocrity and blandness. The man interacts with two unidentified and undefined interlocutors and this lack of clarity makes Holden's performance come across as rather forced. However, the fault may lie with the play itself: it feels that Foreman has made this piece into a monologue for the sake of it being a monologue and the story-telling suffers as a result.

The second play, 'Ben and Joe's' is by far the most convincing of the evening in terms of both the writing and performance. John Vernon invites the audience to listen in to his reminiscences of a rosier time. His tone is warm and naturally conversational; it feels like a dear friend is telling a story and the injection of realism he gives is refreshing. The play shows that generational and racial prejudices can rip apart communities, in this case a local gay bar serving as a microcosm for society at large, and lead to their eventual demise.

The final play, 'Sunset', interrupts an older woman just after her husband's death. Carolyn Lyster gives an emotional performance which is only slightly hampered by her dubious accent and repetitious cadences. Foreman's exploration of a woman's state of mind in her final years is interesting but the heavy-handed use of both the sunset and roller-coaster metaphors is somewhat off-putting.

The whole evening was set in traverse. Why? Who knows, I was subjected to lots of 'back-acting'. 'Why' was a question I asked myself a few times during the piece: Why these three monologues in one evening? Why have them as monologues at all? Why California? I'm not sure, but I do know that I had an okay evening at the theatre and that I enjoyed John Vernon's honest performance.

Ted McMillan, West End Frame, seen 24 April 2013

Our comment: The stage is set in thrust ("traverse") to meet the needs of the other production at the King's Head. We are aware that some seats have poor visibility, so we placed audience members to get the best view and we apologise if we did not give this reviewer the best seat.

Californian Lives is the culmination of three monologues by Martin Foreman, connected simply by the fact that they all centre on the lives of three Californians, but could not be more different. The first character we meet is a chauvinistic, red blooded, young Italian man; the second an aging homosexual; the third an elderly woman who has just witnessed the death of her husband.

The first piece, Los Feliz, performed by Robin Holden is littered with clichés and stories which I couldn't help but feel I had heard before. The majority of Los Feliz appears to be an endless tirade persuading the audience of his masculinity, making many demeaning remarks about women and showing off his knowledge of the American freeways (something that may be somewhat wasted on a British audience) before going through that big emotional journey that he needs more in his life - haven't heard that before, have we? It is at times difficult to tell where exactly the monologue is directed: Are there other people present or is the only 'Man in diner'? Despite the flaws in the writing, Holden carries the piece with an undeniable, enjoyable energy and delivers his lines in a strong and controlled Italian-American accent.

We then meet 'Man in bar' for the second monologue of the evening, Ben and Joe's. A friendly and inviting John Vernon creates a much calmer tone fondly looking back at memories with friends in a Californian gay bar. From the beginning Vernon manages to immerse the room in a lovely warmth as his eyes glisten reminiscing over happier times. Sadly, as the story develops we are introduced to far too many characters becoming lost in a sea of names and fleeting anecdotes, which makes the climax difficult to follow and you find yourself asking which guy is he on about? Again, delivered in a very pleasing accent - a much softer Californian than we hear from 'Man in diner'.

Sunset is the title of the closing monologue and perhaps the most successful of the three. Carolyn Lyster plays an elderly woman who has just witnessed her husband's life slip away in the living room of their house where they used to watch the sunset together, admittedly, an instant cliché but Lyster's committed performance makes these small misgivings forgivable. Lyster holds the audience's attention right through what is, despite still being slightly clunky in places, the strongest written piece in the collection. She makes terrific use of her dignified silence at the very beginning but also thrives in the spoken word, even if her accent does slip into the bounds of being suspect from time to time. Lyster moves us with her through to the heart-breaking climax of the piece, and we cannot help but be swept along with her. As silence falls with the dimming lights and closing scene we could hear the uncomfortable sound of sobbing spectators. Mission accomplished.

Three monologues and two intervals later, I left the King's Head feeling slightly confused. Each had redeeming qualities, but every monologue seemed to have something missing, be it in the writing or in the performance. The one fact that really does baffle me about Californian Lives is why it's staged in traverse? Staring at someone's back, particularly during a monologue, is never a winner.

David Coverdale, Bargain Theatreland, seen 25 April 2013

Our comment as before: The stage is set in thrust ("traverse") to meet the needs of the other production at the King's Head.

This is a series of three monologues written by the English actor and author Martin Foreman who gathered his ideas from time spent in California

The first one' Los Feliz' is performed by Robin Holden as Man in diner. A sad divorced man, separated from his wife and daughter who shares with us his knowledge of the Californian freeways and the streets of LA. Then one day he feels his dream of the perfect woman is coming true when he espies his ideal and manages to get to know her by lying about his situation and background. 'I lied because I loved her' he said.

The second one 'Ben and Joes' John Vernon is Man in Bar.

This is a run-down Gay bar and the customers are all homosexual middle aged, middle class men looking for solace, for company and occasional sex. The place needs doing up and the proprieter keeps promising to do it, but the customers don't really care that it never happens, they are happy the way it is. The objec t of their affection is the barman Richard who is tall and handsome and totally uninterested in any of them. The crunch comes when a dark stranger is brought into their midst and they all discover much more about each other. Things they would rather not know.

The third play is 'Sunset' starring Carolyn Lester.

She is watching the sunset and talking to her husband , reminding him of the roller coaster of their lives together. He was a realtor and she worked along with him, having to keep quiet about his many affairs until she has one of her own.

These are three bitter sweet stories told very simply and effectively as expected from an actor who knows about dialogue and who is adept at revealing the hidden thoughts of the characters.

It is produced by the writer and directed by Emma King Farlow on a more or less empty stage with the audience sitting around three sides of the room.

An entertaining and undemanding evening.

Aline Waites, Remote Goat, seen 26 April 2013

Comment: Martin is half-Scottish, half-English and prefers to refer to himself as British.

contains spoilers

One-man shows are notoriously difficult for the actor; having no other actors to play off means they have the tough task of engaging an audience all alone. Three disconnected monologues therefore seems like theatrical suicide! The stories are told from the perspective of three different members of Californian society - a young businessman, a middle-aged gay man and an older woman.

The first monologue, Los Feliz, is performed by Robin Holden in the role of a young businessman who tells the story of his latest quest for love. After divorcing his wife, the character - who we only know as 'Man in Diner' - meets Melanie, a young woman who instantly has him infatuated. Believing he has found the ideal woman he eventually gathers up the courage to ask her out on a date where he discovers that Melanie has hired a private detective to check up on him. The man then declares that all women are liars who distrust men with no justifiable reasons for doing so. Holden's portrayal of a chauvinistic male instantly got my back up, and therefore I was unable to enjoy much of the performance. In addition, he remained in his seat at the back of the set for the majority of the play, and consequently it became very static, and didn't do much to draw me in.

The second story, Ben and Joe's, tells the story of a middle-aged man who spends most of his time at a gay bar with people he considers to be his family. John Vernon's friendly and inviting attitude draws the audience in as he tells us about each of the characters who frequent the bar, and his performance is the most convincing of the three. The subject of racism and the differences between the younger and older generations form the basis of his tale after a young black man is accused of stealing from one of the bar's regulars. The 'family' that exists in the bar is torn apart as each person voices their

opinions of guilt and innocence. Vernon's ability to change his accent to different American dialects also adds depth to this more humourous performance.

The final play, Sunset, is an older woman's monologue to her husband as she describes the journey of their lives together using the metaphor of a rollercoaster. I initially found it hard to engage with her as she described the bitterness and resentment she felt towards her children whom she saw as stripping away her freedom piece by piece. Another metaphor frequently used is that of a sunset which is not only used to represent her fading freedom as she embarks on a life with children, but also her life with her husband as they continue to age. The lighting on stage is used to depict the fading light until only one spotlight remains focused on Carolyn Lyster. It is an extremely emotional performance and even had a woman sat behind me sobbing in her seat. Having recently experienced the death of someone close to me, I was moved by Lyster's commendable performance. That being said, the constant references to rollercoasters and her poor American accent became a distraction.

The dubious accents leave much to be desired and I did leave the theatre feeling slightly drained, though I am still undecided whether this was from the emotional upheaval of Lyster's performance or from sitting through three individual monologues over two hours! This production is worth seeing for Vernon's performance; with some work on the accents and the ability to capture the audience's attention the other two plays would be much more enjoyable.

Everything Theatre, seen 27 April 2013

Once again I am at the King's Head, this time eagerly awaiting the start of 'Californian Lives'. The strapline 'how well do you know those who are closest to you?' adding to my curiosity.

I enter the theatre to be surprised by the seating and the stage. It is a clever triangular set, with the seats angled to get the best view. Music is played as we wait.

At last the show begins.

All three monologues are set in California (hence the Californian Lives title) and the first introduces us to a man in a diner.

Robin Holden is the salesman with a suitcase, who knows the freeways and back streets, like the back of his hand. Ask him any route and he will tell you the best way to get from A to B. He tells us how, on one of his many detours, he stumbled across the 'love of his life', the beautiful brunette Melanie, who is not at all like Linda (his ex-wife) and so his story begins.

Although Holden had an interesting story, I found his accent unconvincing and distracting. I did, however, find him fun to watch and thought he was very animated.

The second monologue introduces a man in a bar (John Vernon) called Ben and Joe's. Ben and Joe's is a popular bar. The clientele all know each other and spend their days socialising, watching TV and flirting with the barman - the most popular activity. One day a young man enters the pub, unwittingly highlighting prejudices and changing their lives forever. Vernon was convincing in his portrayal and held the audiences attention well.

Save the best for last and that's just what they did! Carolyn Lyster, as Woman in Sunset, gave an impressive and captivating performance, one that had some of the audience in tears. Her story is about a woman who made sacrifices for her family but was given the opportunity to realise what really mattered to her.

In my opinion Californian Lives would appeal to an older generation. Some of the references were definitely targeted at them (I had to ask a gentleman behind me to explain who Garth Brooks is).

There are aspects of all three characters that people can relate to and you might find hints of your personality in them or find you have a similar story.

There are some comments, however, which people may find offensive, and although there is no clear time stamp, the language used may allude to the undercurrents of racism, sexism and exclusion that may exist in the US today.

It wasn't really my cup of tea and I was slightly disappointed, mainly because I expected something different, but I think Californian Lives does appeal to some and if it sounds your thing, why not give it a chance.

Unsa Chaudri, Backstage Pass, seen 24 April 2013

Ben Jonson's Volpone adapted by Martin Foreman

All Edinburgh Theatre

Playscript of the new adaptation
of the classic comedy, with
Mosca and Corbaccia now women

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