Ocean of Loneliness
Etcetera Theatre, Camden
Friday 31st January 2014
Aaron Anthony Wallace's sharply paced exploration of the differing effects of loneliness is revived in an intimate new production, directed by James O'Donnell at Camden's Etcetera Theatre this weekend. Told through three intertwined monologues, each of the neighbouring characters addresses the audience as though answering interview questions, gradually revealing the idiosyncrasies of their personalities and the effects of their isolation.
The volley of short, choppy, overlapping lines that make up the opening scene start to introduce the traits of each character. Requiring a daunting pace to maintain the flow of the piece, the feeling of emptiness and solitude that is later suggested in the lives of the three individuals is compromised a little in this bustling opening scene, instead perhaps suggesting the hubbub of the city they live above. It isn't until further into the piece, when longer portions of monologue are revealed at once, that the three characters' individual threads start to take shape.
The style of the piece requires a real team approach from the small cast, whose concentration levels must be acutely focused in the close, intimidating space. Listening to one another, ensuring an awareness and generosity with fellow performers, is essential to allow each of the stories the space they need to grow. Tightly directed, the success of this was impressive for an opening night, although further familiarisation with the environment will only improve the smoothness across the weekend.
An intimidatingly small space in which to perform any piece, especially one in which the entire discourse is conducted towards the very nearby audience, performances were generally well achieved. Alex Barclay's poet, with both delusions of grandeur and crippling writer's block, proves the inaccuracy of his comparisons to Shakespeare and Milton when beginning to write about his neighbour. The character with the most depth, the affects of his solitary situation are clear in this darkly comic interpretation. The comparative insanity portrayed by Helen Bang sits as an uncomfortable juxtaposition, with the initial humour of her eccentricity making way for genuine flashes of mental illness. The distractions of Shian Denovan's character, body image concerns familiar to so many in our appearance obsessed society, have become irrational obsessions through her seclusion.
The space of the Etcetera Theatre allows for limited staging options, yet the staging was designed with smart creativity. Each character's space was kept personal and separate with a careful choice of furniture complimenting each individual. Encounters in the lift - the only communal space in which the neighbours share periods of socially awkward discomfort - are tightly staged, with the imagined liaisons between Man and Woman 2 thoughtfully lit (Lighting Design by Luis Alvarez) to suggest a dreamlike quality. The use of original music, by Damon Burrows and Orpheus Papafilippou, is also an important choice in generating the required atmosphere.
A thought-provoking evening of exploratory theatre, that proves the value of London's fringe venues to the development of new and experimental writing.