REVIEW: Change Your Own Life (Basement Theatre)

Review by Erin O'Flaherty

[The Wheel of Fortune]

How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone? This is one of the central questions in Jean Sergent’s Change Your Own Life – one which she directly asks the audience. But this show is not a didactic self-help talk – far from it. What Sergent offers up instead is a deeply personal story of grief, loss, hardship and perseverance.

Into these somewhat dark themes, Sergent injects a great helping of comedy. A confident performer, her presence ripples with brazen positivity. She is honest and vulnerable (despite the many times she says she’s bad at being honest). The show is immediately funny and, as it unfurls, comedy is used smartly to suggest at uncomfortable truths and highlight the sometimes grim realities of life.

The story is hung together by death and spirituality. Sergent weaves together the tales of the major losses in her life and their aftermath – the strange practicalities of what happens when someone dies, as well as the long and complex journey to heal from profound grief. Yet, interestingly, there is no talk of an afterlife. Spirituality is instead used only as a tool for the healing of the self. Tarot in particular gives Sergent an anchor from which to make meaning, traits to strive towards, and a guide to carrying on.

When Sergent offers her advice to us, it is often done with irony – an acknowledgement of the sometimes unhelpful ways we try to cope, and our flaws that like to rear their heads to get in the way. She reveals a lot to us over the course of just under an hour, showing her full humanity in her complexity and lack of perfection. It is this humanity, as well as Sergent’s willingness to poke fun, which keeps the show grounded. And she does present a number of genuine pearls of wisdom throughout.

Change Your Own Life is a simple piece. There are almost no theatrics – just the set and props (an intimate setting evoking a bedroom), and minimal lighting and sound. A few sharp transitions chop up the story, suggesting at a kind of messy, grief-stricken memory. While it would have been interesting to lean into this device further, the stripped-back approach also feels right for this work. It is really just a human standing and talking to a bunch of other humans. And there is a kind of beauty in that.

The Death card when pulled often signals not a literal death, but an existential one. And, from the ashes, a rebirth. This is what Sergent’s journey reflects, and what she offers to us, too– a chance to re-examine our lives in the face of turmoil, to appreciate what we may have taken for granted, and to make ourselves anew, one day at a time.

Whether you believe in any kind of fate or not, life certainly feels random (and harshly so). But Sergent offers us hope that we are ultimately in control – of our actions and reactions, of the ways we move forward, of the narratives we create and the ways we interpret the world.

Change Your Own Life is beautiful, moving and genuinely funny. It has themes we can all relate to and takes us back to the communal act of simple storytelling. A lovely, intimate evening and a chance to reflect will be on the cards if you choose to see this piece.

Change Your Own Life plays Basement Theatre 13-17th April, 2021. 

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