Front row- Left to right Vincent O’Neill, Koren Chambers, Liz Coote, Lynda Leavers, Michael Gooley, Back row- Michael Barlow, Adrian Glen
Left to right : Vincent O’Neill, Michael Gooley

Australian award-winning playwright, Daniel Keene’s absurdist comedy, Life Without Me, is not the usual fare you would expect from a suburban theatre company. With themes belonging to a theatre tradition epitomised by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, you would more comfortably expect to see Life Without Me in a fringe theatre space. Yet, Arts Theatre Cronulla tackles it with a level of skill and humour we have come to expect from their productions, choosing it to kick start their 2022 season.

Farce, by its very nature is absurd – absurdity is the font of its laughter and this makes it a perfect fit for a play with existential themes. But that’s not where the play stops. Keene isn’t content to make grand statements about the human condition without providing a moral take home. He does this through a patchwork of stories set in a hotel lobby where he asks what is reality for the individual? How do our desires, memory, and courage to examine our reality, affect how we perceive our life and how we live it? Is contentment a façade for complacency, or is that just ground-hog day?

The winds of change are blowing a gale on the streets of the city. John (Michael Gooley) wants out but every station and depot can’t accommodate his passage. He’s trapped, blown through the corridors of a maze of inertia and into the relative shelter of the lobby of a once comfortable hotel. 

Linen sales rep, Roy (Vincent O’Neill) has one of those faces everybody recognises but nobody knows. Alice (Lynda Leavers) sees her former lover in him. Roy sees his former partner in Alice. They agree to give rein to their misconceptions. 

Tom (Adrian Glen) and Ellen (Koren Chambers) were besotted schoolyard sweethearts who’ve been together so long they can’t recall ever meeting. Tom needs the memory of a significant meet cute and so they pretend to be strangers for one another to create one. 

Hotelier, Mrs Spence (Liz Coote) is a widow who wishes that her wandering husband may wander back into her life and tries to weave her son and those around her into her fantasy. She knows the truth but prefers not to live it. Nigel (Michael Barlow) is stuck as a concierge running his mother’s business, passing time amusing himself with facetious questions levelled at his guests. They all must come to terms with their own reality before they can escape this kind of lockdown and move on. 

Gooley’s John is a sympathetic everyman whose journey we accompany and whose plight we want relieved. When he falls victim to the inanity of Barlow’s Nigel we can only take a step back and laugh. The cast is full of capable familiar faces with a couple of newcomers to ATC in Adrian Glen and Koren Chambers playing young couple Tom and Ellen. They have good on stage chemistry.

The realisation of Natalie Banach’s set design is impressive, complete with a revolving door and protruding balcony alcoves. The starkness of the white walled lobby ably reflects the abstract concerns of the text – it could just as easily be a hospital and perhaps is one for the soul. 

The choice of opening music – Gotye’s, Someone that I Used to Know, is also an inspired choice of instrumental. That someone the character no longer knows is themselves.

Arts Theatre Cronulla’s production of Life Without Me provokes a generous amount of laughter while respecting the levity of its existential core. It works on two levels. If a night out at the theatre means a jolly good time laughing, director Natalie Banach’s cast will accommodate you. If you need brain food, Keene’s cleverly constructed plot lies barely a scratch below the surface.

Daniel Keene’s Life Without Me is playing the Arts Theatre Cronulla until 19 March 2022.

Tickets can be purchased at or ph:9523 2779 after 10am.

Featured image : left to right – Liz Coote, Michael Barlow, Lynda Leavers, Vincent O’Neill