Glee & Me

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh, how wonderful it is to be back at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and what better timing than to be back on their 45th birthday! And what a way to celebrate with the world premiere of Glee & Me.

Let’s dive straight into the deep stuff – the eternal question…what is the meaning of life? A question I’m sure we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives… but the thought of it leads to some sort of existential dread. Well, that question is one that Lola seeks to find the answer to, after she gets the horrific news that she is terminally ill. So, she sets herself a promise to do two things: discover the meaning of life – and have all the sex!

Glee & Me is written by Stuart Slade and won The Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2019. It tells the story of a sharp-witted, sixteen-year-old Lola, who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Despite the way the title reads, it’s not at all a play filled with ‘glee’, on the contrary as glee stands for the shortened version of the particular brain tumour Lola is battling against, glioblastoma multiforme.

The one-woman play is as equally heart breaking as it is quick witted and humorous. Liv Hill as Lola is absolutely sensational. At no point did I believe I was watching an actress on stage: I was there with Lola, listening intently as she tells us her story. Raw, beautiful and poignant.

Slade’s story is a sad one, but its also one of love, hope and gratitude. There are some beautifully written lines, of an almost poetic nature, leaving you to ponder your own life and the love within it.  Contrasted with the sharp-witted character he has created, the humorous elements not only add light to what is a dark topic but draws you into Lola’s story even more, helping you relate to her relationships, her youthful nature and her troubles.

There is no better space for this production than The Royal Exchange, as the in-the round environment of the theatre only added to the conversational dimensions of the play. The stage and lighting design, by Anna Yates and Jess Bernberg, were carefully considered not only for the space but for the desolate moments with the play to draw you back to the painful reality that Lola was experiencing. The subtle lighting changes revealed and extenuated the pain and difficulties that Lola faced, becoming more frequent throughout the play and climaxing to a peaceful and enriching ending.

Yet even in these darkest moments of the play, you’re quickly snapped out of them back to the hilarious one liners and relatable topics that had the audience thoroughly amused. It’s an ode to a great writer and a great actress for a play such as this (and a relatively short 1 hour 25 minutes straight through), to make you both laugh out loud and then cry within minutes.

The heart wrenchingly beautiful play is one that needs to be experienced by audiences, and I hope and expect to see this production do great things in the future. Glee & Me is a reminder to us all to find joy even in the darkest of times, something which we have all strived for in the last year or so. As Lola says, “You’ve got to laugh, or it’ll destroy you”.

Glee & Me is on at The Royal Exchange until Saturday 30th October tickets available here.