Review by Carly Fisher
Of late, the Elizabeth Holmes story has had a great deal of attention and with Amanda Seyfried taking on the role in the 2022 true crime miniseries The Dropout, it’s hard to picture Holmes in many other ways.
With this context in mind, Optimistic: Elizabeth Holmes is definitely battling against it.
Sarah Deller gives such a committed and energetic solo performance in her role as Holmes. Deller has clearly spent an enormous amount of time perfecting the voice, the physicality, the mindset of this character and as an audience we are treated to seeing a performer who has seriously, and obviously, done the work to make this show a success. Deller is a very interesting performer whom I would definitely be keen to see in more roles - I think she is the consummate character actor.
The script itself though is just not that interesting…not for anyone who has watched the mini series. Unfortunately, in it being a bio-monologue, there is nothing new to offer to the story that many of us won’t have already seen between the show and the news. Whether a second character (not Sunny) would have added some dynamic to the piece, I’m not sure, but regardless, as it currently stands, despite all of Deller’s best efforts, the script is, unfortunately, just a bit boring.
The set is well considered and even better utilised by Deller. A consistently moving white desk, chair, filing cabinet and bin, the usage of the set intensifies into chaos as Holmes’ life and lies unravel more. The projection design is well achieved in this show, impacted only by the Zoo’s actual space and the fact that there was no avoiding the fact that, at times, Deller would need to be right in front of the screen. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable. The props, again, grow in their chaos but are clever and give such physical representation to the intensifying paranoia Holmes experiences. Costuming was expected and that’s totally fine but the lack of shoes in the costume really threw me.
What this show achieves exceptionally well is a construction and variation of pace and rhythm. This has been a consistent problem across the fringe - a lack of pacing - but this show has it is spades and it is executed by Deller masterfully. Finding perfect moments to really diversify her performance, Deller engages the audience throughout!
I feel for this show because I believe it has enormous potential…or rather, Deller has enormous potential. The show itself is well written and covers a lot of ground - it took multiple movie length episodes to get through the same amount of Holmes’ story as this monologue, but ultimately, with the story just already being so mainstream, I think that this may not have been the year for the piece…maybe we all just needed a bit more time to watch other great shows. There weren’t many in the audience the day I went, and I think that this is why.
Regardless, I find the whole Holmes story very interesting and the debacle that ensued, honestly, fascinating, so I’m glad I went to the show…mainly, I’m glad I didn’t miss it because Deller deserved an audience for this performance and I was happy to be one of them.