Single Lifestyle Needs a Rethink: Review of Singled Out
Director Augusta Supple has gathered together a team of creatives to produce Singled Out which is currently playing in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre. Singled Out is a collection of 13 playlettes each of which is dealing with the issue of single living, creating a ‘portrait of the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of a life lived alone.’ The individual pieces were written by Vanessa Bates, Wayne Blair, Sarah Carradine, Luke Carson, Emma Magenta, Grace De Morgan, Tim Spencer and Alli Sebastian Wolf. Their brief was to imagine the unwatched moment, to examine solo living as an idea of emancipation and unbridled freedom. The cast of writers, for the most part, have generally captured the idea of the unwatched moment: people are caught doing things in their private lives that they would never want the public to see, and there is a certain element that rings true in this. However, although the program seemingly bills this play as a celebration of single living, what actually comes out is a consistent portrayal of lonely people.
Supple has done a fine job directing this piece: the set is well designed to cater to each playette without any changes required. The lighting, music, choreography and staging is also expertly executed. No doubt Supple provides a safe pair of hands in this regard. Bringing the piece together as a whole isn’t a problem for her, but unfortunately it is the individual pieces that let the play down. At worst the plays are indecipherable: ‘Significant Other’, a very wordy monologue which takes places on the toilet seat; and ‘Barb’, featuring an elderly woman who is visited by her memories (or fragmented elements of herself) during the night, will probably remain incomprehensible to most audience members. Some of the other plays also suffer from being overwritten to a degree, and risk becoming dull.
Two of the pieces are however worthy of note. ‘Wishbone’ by Vanessa Bates is a very well written and lyrical monologue about a woman who longs for her former partner to return. She makes a chicken sandwich for him every day even though she knows he will never come back, and attempts to fill her empty time with trivialities which only serve to highlight how empty her days are. ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ by Alli Sebastian-Wolf (returning once again to a nautical theme after the staging of her play Mermaid Teeth in July this year) is also one of the standout pieces. An elderly lighthouse keeper lives alone with his cat, and, possibly through suffering from a touch of cabin-fever, believes that his pet talks to him. This pieces is however very poignant and representative of what can happen when the loneliness becomes too much to take.
Yet the plays all seem to exhibit two broader thematic concerns. Each of the characters (albeit to varying degrees) is slightly unhinged due to their time spent in isolation. Proof perhaps that social interaction is actually a healthy thing. Secondly, the characters’ mothers all feature in some way. Whether this was intentional or a coincidence is difficult to say, but it may suggest that when people are alone the only person left to care for them is their mother (even though in many cases the characters where pushing the mother figure away). In the end, the plays paint a sad picture of what it means to be alone and finishes far from the celebration it bills itself to be.
Some acting issues also don’t help matters. In a cast of twelve it is difficult to stand out. This is especially true when one’s actual stage time is limited and the script is still in need of refinement. Unfortunately, the group needed to work hard to compensate. As a general note, many suffered from a lack of believability, though one must acknowledge that in depth ‘character’ portrayal is unrealistic in a production that features a series of playlettes. Nevertheless, there are some performers to watch out for.
Richard Cox, (fresh from his seafaring adventure in Mermaid Teeth) once again demonstrates aptitude as a performer. Cox is entirely at ease on the stage, allowing the audience to relax whilst he does the work. In this production, Cox’s strength lay in his puppetry work in ‘The Diver’ and ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’. Notably, Cox never overplays a line. Rather, he exhibits restraint and looks for more interesting emotional choices. Similarly, Amber McMahon (featuring in ‘Wishbone’) constructed a beautifully cohesive character arc and was simply a joy to watch. McMahon also demonstrates wonderful control in her delivery. She has great comic timing and a flair for creating dramatic tension in a subtle and nuanced fashion.
Alex Bryant-Smith, whilst suffering more than most from a terribly scattered script, still possesses a natural presence on stage that is very pleasing to an audience. He has a fantastic face for capturing emotion and one would hope that in the future he is given better material to make sense of. A touching though fleeting performance came from Paul Armstrong in ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’, playing the lonely though complacent protagonist. Like the others, Armstrong’s choices were demonstrative of the theme the show was trying to capture – moments of introspect and revelation. Armstrong and Cox made for a lovely pairing in this particular piece and produced some genuinely heartfelt moments.
For what they had to work with the actors generally did a decent job, so too with the direction. If every piece within this show does not work as well as it might there are still nevertheless moments of enjoyment to be had.
Singled Out is playing at the Reginald Theatre, in the Seymour Centre until the 12th of October. For more information see: http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/singled-out/