I Wish I Was Lonely by Hannah Jane Walker

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For what seemed to be the first time in my life, I was asked to leave my mobile phone on during a performance. Even keep it at my side, free to text and answer calls. In fact, such electronic contact was encouraged in a show that investigates the constant apparent need to communicate in our modern society.

I Wish I Was Lonely, performed and created by poet Hannah Jane Walker and theatre-maker Chris Thorpe, is an interactive experience in which audience members are confronted with the truths of our over-connected culture. The informal show is interspersed with fractions of narrative and energetic bursts of poetry. With such accessible language, the lyrical abilities of the two performers still demonstrate their deserved place as part of the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International weekend.

Amidst the participatory texting and calling, I Wish I Was Lonely powerfully creates a reflective mood through the performers’ fluid handling of spoken word. Walker and Thorpe work well as a duo, circling in and out of the audience in a direct yet down-to-earth manner with their impressive imagery and contemporary beats. Some of the most memorable moments were those of utter simplicity, such as the realisation of how we never can truly escape from the hundreds of people in our pockets, ready to message and respond to at any time. One conversational anecdote in particular highlights the lack of distance that cracks relationships, such as the provocative, ‘I can’t love you if I can’t miss you.’ Similarly, I Wish I Was Lonely addresses the guilt involved with not being contactable, as in, ‘if you don’t participate, you don’t exist.’ It is possible that some exaggeration is present, yet one cannot fail to acknowledge the relevance of the portrayal of our digitally-obsessed habits. That being said, the show does not solely carry an air of negativity; rather it is quite playful, and even justified in its inclusion of some benefits of the immediacy of communication.

The biggest disappointment of I Wish I Was Lonely, which had previously run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, was its location. Such a participatory, alternative piece of theatre only needed a black box studio and some seats. But the Level 5 Function Room at Royal Festival Hall? Of course the view of Embankment is undoubtedly scenic, but is too distracting for a performance. In addition, Walker and Thorpe occasionally had to strain their voices over the loud band rehearsing next door. It may well have been that these logistical choices were out of the artists’ control, yet they still hindered the audience’s full attention from the production.

Will people bin their phones after experiencing this show? Probably not. But it will make us pause and reconsider the relevance of what’s constantly being electronically fed to us. After a hopeful yet slightly awkward ending, the audience is left with a re-evaluation of the tangible, a certain questioning of communication that all the more reassures the thought-provoking power of performance.

by Celia Watson

I Wish I Was Lonely was on at the Southbank Centre on Saturday 19th July 2014