26 March 2018
Seeking Intimacy confronts Naomi Obeng with a lot of beauty but leaves her feeling distanced
It’s very easy, natural possibly, to assume your reactions aren’t valid when they appear to be in the minority. I want to be challenged by theatre, and I look for a level of connection to a piece that takes me beyond the information I’ve been given in my life up until now.
Seeking Intimacy’s two Sams, our hosts, lead us through to the first of many rooms where this piece unfolds, using that happy, silence-filling, intonation-laden voice of service people whose humanity has been wiped away through the habit of excellent hospitality. The promenade staging works well. I’m impressed with how it has transferred to the spaces in Mill Studios, as if it had been constructed here all along. I enjoy the novelty of being part of an audience shoved into a bathroom for a few minutes while a conversation happens between stalls, an inner monologue as the protagonist applies lip-balm, casting us as visions she cannot see.
It keeps us on our toes, yes literally. And it’s a good thing too, because I don’t know what any of this means.
Maybe I need to start with the premise to retrace my disagreement. The Sams are presenting Henri with a trial version of a new dating support group for those looking for love and an end to their loneliness. These cardboard cut-out, interchangeable, affable personalities tell us outright that there’s a catch: once you’re in you cannot leave and you can’t meet someone more than once either. Will you still take this opportunity? Well, will you?
No! The plausibility of Henri deciding to make this leap of desperation is not established. She doesn’t seem sufficiently desperate, lost or lonely. We all spend time sitting on the sofa with a blanket. This doesn’t mean we’ll sign ourselves away to a restricted diet of strictly day-long intimacy with someone who we know we’ll never see again. Repeatedly. Forever. There’s only power in this type of metaphorical dystopia if you can imagine yourself or someone you know caught up in it. Henri navigates this new way of life and becomes obsessed with spending time with this support group, each being taught to love, each being matched by algorithms that are slowly running out of people to match. She begins to doubt her decision, naturally, of course, because those clauses never seemed like a good idea to start with.
The projections, simultaneous discussions, choreographed therapy sessions and individual spaces made collective all work to create a distinct atmosphere. Little bubbles of happy-sad people. The actors are very convincing. They work hard to create this world we’re gazing into and they do it well. I get this. I get this intellectually. But I don’t feel any of it. The lefty millennial references start to drag.
So I return to my doubt. Am I wrong? What did I miss? What was it that I needed in order to get this show, for it to speak to me? We all bring different things to a theatrical space, and what I brought didn’t get reflected back or amplified or challenged here. The juxtaposition of a deeply feeling human and emotional journey with the patronising nods and "ahs" of these corporate-types is interesting. There’s a lot of form to this piece, great form, interesting and bold form. It flows and crescendos and falls. But behind it I feel I have learnt nothing at all. About my life, or anyone else’s. This makes it very difficult to engage with and think about – I feel like I have nothing to grasp and nothing to hold on to.
The piece is set now or in a time that could be now. It is a comment on our world. But I see little of it here, I’m left frustrated. That’s something, at least. At least it’s not nothing. There are clearly beautiful ideas. Beautiful writing. Innovative and creative staging of ideas. Standing in corners and centres of rooms, I was less immersed than distanced, and in a world that didn’t make sense to me I sadly felt quite apart from it all.
Photo Credit: Aenne Pallasca