Yours Sincerely at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: crowd-pleasing but undercooked
Will Jackson accidentally stole 300 stamps from a post office in 2017. Or, at least, that’s the plot of Yours Sincerely.
When we walk into the Assembly Front Room, he’s sitting at a desk, writing. The lights go down and he reads what he’s just written (obviously he reads the script, not what he’s just written – which is probably just some scribble). It’s a letter to his ex-flatmate, informing her that he’s moved in with a guy he hasn’t met yet, and also that he’s accidentally stolen 300 stamps and intends to write letters to a bunch of people from his past – after all, when life gives you lemons…
It’s not long before Will has written to a teenage love (whose arm he broke in school), Cadbury’s, the NHS, and John Lewis. The narrative of the show takes place almost solely through the readings of this correspondence. It is, if I was to categorise it in some way, a comedy – although all the laughs are gentle and uncontroversial. Aside from a really funny bit about biscuits, there are no really huge gags – and there are a handful in there that you can tell were supposed to elicit laughs but didn’t. I wouldn’t say that’s a problem though, because Will’s presence is so inviting that we never feel awkward.
Will is a natural-born performer. He’s likable, energetic, genuine and wins the audience over almost instantly. The manner in which he carries himself suggests we’ve been friends for years, and as a result of that, it’s often impossible to dislike the show. In fact, if it wasn’t Will presenting Yours Sincerely, it’s rating would probably drop a star – he’s that good.
Over the course of an enjoyable, relaxing hour, these letters build up a coming-of-age narrative about leaving home, finding your place in the world and facing troubles as an independent person without the safety net of family to fall back on. The show also, unsurprisingly, works as a fantastic marketing aid for the Royal Mail – Yours Sincerely highlights the creative and expressive potential of the letter, and makes an effective case for written communication in the digital age.
That said, though, there are problems with the play. Firstly, there’s a lot of lip-syncing to trashy pop. I admit, it’s entertaining, but I don’t understand what it has to do with anything – I don’t understand why it’s in the show. To be honest with you, it feels a bit like filler for the sake of filler, and I’d rather be listening to more of the dialogue.
If there’s something else that rings false, it’s the constant undercurrent of paranoia flowing under Will’s theft of 300 stamps. At one point, he writes letters to three different lawyers in anticipation of the release of a book containing his correspondence, asking if there’s a potential that he’ll be caught. This assumes, of course, that somebody will read his book, figure out that he’s stolen 300 stamps, and will be motivated to report him. It also assumes that legal action will subsequently be taken on the theft of stamps whose worth is less than £200, and which occurred several years ago. This is obviously never going to happen for several reasons, most glaringly because the limitation period for theft of that low amount will have run out. Yours Sincerely is made up – it’s not real; it’s a play – how is this the best dramatic tension Jackson could come up with?
I can’t help but feel that, ultimately, Yours Sincerely is also a tad too light on its feet to make the kind of mark it should. If you were suddenly blessed with 300 stamps and the will to write to 300 people from your past, I’m willing to bet there are poignant depths and hard memories that’d be unearthed. Jackson just decides to be a little silly, and that’s fine, but it feels like there’s a premise and a potential for maturity that remains locked-up in this show, and an opportunity that’s been missed. That seems a lot more obvious when you find out that this show is just made up – there’s so much more that could’ve been done with the idea. It’s telling that at one point we’re told that a literary agent has become interested in these letters as ‘letter writing from a queer, millennial perspective’ and the first thing I thought was ‘really?’ In fact, that’s the moment I realised this show was actually made up.
What I will say, though, is that I’m a very particular audience on the Fringe. If you’re a person that looks for, above else, a good, unchallenging time in good company, then Yours Sincerely is probably exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for – it’s a real crowd-pleaser. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something complex, powerful, unusual or what we might call Fringey, then this probably isn’t it.