Each of Us, Tristan Bates Theatre

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Originally written for Exeunt.

Why do we tell stories? Perhaps, as the narrator of Ben Moor’s monologue suggests, we simply don’t have a choice. Reaching for ways to explain human connection, Moor invents the “narrative gene”, a newly discovered strand of our DNA that compels us to create. Storytelling, then, is a reflex. A way of making sense of the world that is coded into our very being.

It is this process of making sense and of constructing an identity that sits underneath the meandering narrative of Each of Us. When we first meet Moor’s narrator, he is bruised from a recent marriage breakup – “paralysed from the heart forward”. Talking us through parties and therapy sessions, wit and heartbreak going hand in hand, he slowly navigates the emotional wreckage, mining it for meaning or maybe even treasure. While still deciding what to erase from his own story, a chance encounter leads him careering into an enigmatic group of memory collectors, all of them convinced of the purpose held in the fragments of self that they choose to hold on to.

The strange, familiar yet unfamiliar fictional world that Moor (who also performs the piece) crafts with his words is one in which the everyday rubs shoulders with the absurd. Like so many stories, it borrows magpie fashion, snatching snippets of pop culture and sci-fi. This is a London in which David Lynch directs live sports game footage and car bombs explode in slow motion. And it is all underscored with a faint, uncanny sense of wrongness; something in this world is catastrophically out of place, but no one wants to look directly at it.

The linguistic landscape of this universe is rich, perhaps too rich for performance. On the page, Moor’s writing is dense with detail, each paragraph an avalanche of description. Performed, however, that avalanche hits an audience at a devastating pace, leaving only a few twisted fragments of debris in its wake. Odd words and phrases snag on their way down, but the vast majority is lost, sliding past before it can be taken in. It is only reading it back later that it is possible to luxuriate in the vivid images and razor-sharp quips.

There is, if you can catch it, much to be savoured in Moor’s poetic, intricately detailed text. An aching emptiness is contained in the image of “air spooning”, tracing absence by the gaps that it leaves in a life. Elsewhere, a character is likened to a semi-colon – “rare, occasionally in the wrong place, but when you saw her confidence, you knew more would follow”. The show is also frequently funny, though it can be hard to tell if there is any purpose behind the conspicuously clever jokes. Moor knowingly riffs on the ubiquity of postmodern irony, but what he ends up with feels a little like a pastiche of a pastiche; postmodernism squared. And, like all the best postmodernism, it manages to wriggle out of making many sincere, meaningful statements.

The one unifying idea of Each of Us is this notion of connection, both as something we seek and something we construct. In this sense, theatre is the perfect medium for Moor’s subject matter, as it is a space in which we can be both alone and together at the same time. As directed here by Erica Whyman, however, the piece does not fully convince that it is better off on the stage than the page. It’s entertaining, to be sure, but the tone of gentle stand-up-meets-storytelling rarely engages with its own liveness in a way that might kick it up a gear, instead leaving Moor’s anecdotes ambling around in circles. It is, like the cinematic masterpiece of one of Moor’s periphery characters, “a montage of montages”; each beautiful in its own right, but never fully assembling into a whole.

Photo: Mae Voogd.

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