Unrequited love

18 April 2019

Joseph Winer stands on his own in the dark (with a double rum and coke) 

We’ve been talking a lot about authenticity at the festival this year. About who has a right to speak the words of other people. When it comes to autobiographical theatre, we often assume that the performer is speaking their own story. In Standing Too Close On Our Own In The Dark, Jake Chamberlain starts off by telling us that the show is very self-indulgent: mostly just him sipping water and reading out extracts from his diary. And he doesn’t disappoint with this claim. He does very much go on to be self-indulgent for an hour as he whines about young love, the story interspersed with songs performed by Jake Marsden and Jamie Nowell. But the autobiography of this setup turns out to be deceitful. It took me completely by surprise to discover that the text has actually been written completely by Marsden. 

I can’t be too annoyed, surely? It is theatre I suppose, and we know that theatre is generally fictional. But the setup of this in the construct of the gig seems to alter the way I perceive the storytelling. I’ve had conversations with people who have argued that this is not theatre. That it’s closer to spoken word, a genre which generally uses non-fiction in its content. But I like to be of the belief that performance, as a rule, can categorise itself however it chooses.

Putting form aside, the story we’re told is hardly new or revolutionary. A boy falls in love with a girl. He dreads meeting her dad. She has to move back to America. He may never love again. We’ve heard this story so many times before. That’s not to say that these feelings of hopelessness-in-love aren’t valid for anyone who experiences them, but why make another piece of theatre about it? This story isn’t captivating. I don’t relate to this character. His flaws aren’t interesting enough to engage with. And maybe that’s just me? Maybe this isn’t a show for me. 

He comes towards the end of a section and looks down. I think this is supposed to be so we can take a breath and reflect on the situation. But this gesture depends on a development of sympathy from the audience, and I just don’t think the script offers much opportunity for this. He talks briefly about loneliness, about dependence on alcohol, but these don’t become much of a focus. The girl he’s in love with isn’t described with much detail. She hardly feels like a real person.

I stand at the back of the performance space, drink in hand, and lean. The music is pleasant. But it doesn’t take me emotionally. That might just be me. I don’t think music speaks to me in the same way that spoken word does. The lyrics become diluted in the air, practically evaporating in the warming vapours of beer. They don’t hit me. The stakes never rise. And the whole thing is nothing more than mildly pleasant, albeit performed with a highly convincing embodiment of the text by Chamberlain.

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Photo credit: Beatrice Debney