Oh, The Humanity and Other Good Intentions, St Stephen’s

Originally written for Exeunt.

A sports coach with a struggling team. Two internet daters desperate not to be alone. A spokeswoman without a script. A pair of photographers trying to capture something intangible and a couple without a clue as to where they are going. This seemingly unconnected assortment of characters all have something to get off their chests, something occasionally profound and messily human.

Will Eno’s series of short plays function like streams of consciousness, hyperreal vocalisations of the rambling, irrational, uncertain and sometimes mad thoughts that incessantly rumble through our brains. This familiar yet unfamiliar world, evoking an oddly disturbing Freudian atmosphere of the uncanny, is seemingly one in which lies are unthinkable. From the broken, ageing sports coach to the rambling lonely hearts, these characters are all helplessly compelled to tell the truth, as the private, the taboo and the mutedly mundane all trip indiscriminately from their mouths. By stripping back all artifice and laying honesty bare, Eno’s writing startlingly reveals just how many little lies and omissions cloak our everyday conversation, leaving his lines unsettlingly naked by comparison.

And the nakedness of the piece does not end with the writing. Layer by layer, Erica Whyman’s direction peels back the illusion of stagecraft, pulling away the curtain concealing the magician’s secrets. Between each of the scenes, the transitions are increasingly conspicuous, until eventually the panels of the set swing back fully to reveal the hidden, inner workings. The experience is that of watching a piece of theatre fall gloriously apart, until we are left not even with characters but with individuals dislocated in time, floating somewhere between fiction and truth. Realism disperses to unveil the reality beneath; a car dissolves back into two chairs and characters misplace their back stories.

The admission that recurs most frequently within Eno’s heightened bubble of veracity is “I don’t know”. In interrogating what it means to be alive, the piece recognises that one of the defining features of our humanity is our uncertainty, our ability to weigh possibilities and conclude the calculation with a question mark. There is also something beautifully indecisive about the performances, which can suddenly segue from calm containment to passionate outburst, as recklessly demonstrative as the emotions we suppress. Lucy Ellinson in particular, whether as frantic spokeswoman or wistful singleton, has a constantly searching, anxious quality behind her gaze that speaks of the terminal human quest for meaning.

Of the fractured scenes that we are witness to, the splinter that protrudes most strikingly at the show’s centre is the scenario featuring the two photographers, their lens focused firmly on the audience. Eno’s witty, surreal study of idiosyncrasy is swiftly turned on its spectators as Ellinson gently asks us, eyes stretched wide: “how do you want to be remembered?” Because, as the structures of theatricality drop away and the divisions between performer and audience break down, the piece’s perceptive observations extend to us all.

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