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  • Flora Gosling

Review: A/lone (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)

Australian physical theatre performance has sparks of connection but struggles to sustain them

An hour rarely does justice to a heavy theme, but I think this is especially true of themes of longevity and absence. Grief cannot be condensed, depression cannot be summarised, and loneliness is never brief. The hardship of these feelings is not just that they are painful, it is that they continue without any promise of ending. But when words are not enough, sometimes movement and dance can be. In A/lone, Australian company Project Connect use interviews on the topic of loneliness as inspiration for their physical theatre, starring performers Stacey Carmichael and Xavier McGettigan. We see commuters consumed by their thoughts and insecurities, school children struggling to make friends, and reckless club-goers distracting themselves with booze and drugs.

Rather than being driven by a single motif or idea, the performance stitches together different concepts of loneliness (some sad, some humorous, some joyous) and works out how to represent each one physically using the two performers and four chairs on stage. Inventive as a few of these are, the dramaturgy feels as though it is lacking a continuing thread to tie each section together. They are connected thematically, but each feels too divorced from the others. I am reminded of a 2017 show called 2 AM Phone Call, also from the other side of the world in New Zealand, a physical theatre piece that hones in on the loneliness felt when you don’t know if you are truly friends with someone. By contrast, A/lone feels as though it is spreading itself too thin balancing as many ideas as it has.

Some of its ideas are successful however; a highlight from the performance is a sequence in which two people grow close and learn to trust each other completely, but after one moment of distrust can never quite find their rhythm again. Carmichael and McGettigan show themselves as talented dancers and actors, communicating every stage in their characters’ relationship clearly but delicately. It is sequences like that that demonstrate what physical theatre can do for a theme like this, but sometimes having both performers on stage is a hindrance rather than a help. After all, a big part of loneliness is solitude, which is hard to appreciate when we don’t get to see either of them on their own. It could be that this is a deliberate choice to highlight that many of us are alone and yet in close proximity; there are communities full of people who have no-one to talk to. The trouble is this is not explicit enough in the piece, so it becomes hard to appreciate the sincerity of the interviewees' testimonies on their experience of loneliness.

It seems to me that an opportunity has been missed. At the start of the performance, we learn that all the interviews have been taken from “members of our community”. If what they are referring to is their own local community then they could have created a sense of setting - painted a picture of a specific community and how loneliness affects them in a way that speaks to the wider experience of loneliness. As it is, We do not feel we are close enough to any one individual to see loneliness through their eyes, nor are we far enough away to see its effect on community or the human condition. A/lone is a worthy endeavour and features some very impressive performances from Carmichael and McGettigan, but it isn’t tight enough to present its themes in an affecting or original way. Three stars.

A/lone will play at Greenside @ Infirmary Street until the 12th of August


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