In an age where the world is literally at our fingertips in the form of computers and mobile phones, it’s difficult to find solitude. Strangely however, it can be equally as challenging to feel one has a full, engaged, and connected life despite the endless information and communication constantly available to us. In a recent production at the Camden People’s Theatre, from the Uncovered Theatre Company, Sophia Kingshill’s script examines this paradox in an interesting and surprisingly funny manner. The one-act show features Maggie Gordon-Walker as Jean, an office manager for a real-estate firm, as she sets her affairs in order before she commits suicide
We are never told why Jean wants to end her life – in fact, the nature of her personal life is left much to mystery. All the information we receive comes from one-sided telephone calls and her dictation of her various short, detached, suicide memos to family, friends, and colleagues. It’s a creative approach by Kingshill, and offers the production distinction from many other solo performances which by nature require a lot of monologue and exposition. The refreshing slice-of-life nature in which the story is told allows us to observe Jean and understand her situation without really understanding how she feels or why.
This structure also allowed Gordon-Walker to give an excellent and realistic performance – her finest moments were often reactions to statements from the other side of the telephone, which of course the audience couldn’t hear so could only imagine. Her comedic timing was excellent, and it was a delight to have her guiding us through the laughs despite the awkwardly dark scenario. Gordon-Walker also deserves praise for her well-balanced portrayal of Jean’s natural self-consciousness and apparent eagerness to please others coupled with her newly-formed unquestionable resolve to kill herself.
There are no major theatrics and Jean is very down to business, making the whole scene quite private and interesting to watch. The set was well-dressed as Jean’s office and allowed plenty of insight into Jean’s life simply by its organization and design. The many things placed within also allowed for a lot of dynamic movement and blocking to keep the stage picture versatile despite the inherently static nature of one-person shows.
While in many ways the intimate and muted tone of the show worked to its advantage, it was difficult to foster a genuine empathy for Jean, because it was primarily like watching her at a day at the office. Thematically and theoretically, this is a great statement to make about our nature and the way dealing with telephone calls and email messages and business can tramp down even the most emotionally distressing of circumstances, but it also makes it difficult for an audience to stay fully involved.
Thankfully Kingshill’s wit kept the tempo of the show up even though the action was stuck, and Gordon-Walker kept us watching with her performance. If nothing else, it really did move me to ponder how technological interruptions and desk-work structured lives can harm and help us all.