Review – 5 Encounters on a Site called Craigslist, by YesYesNoNo

Work in Progress, Camden People’s Theatre

Sam wants to talk to you about Five Encounters he had on a Site Called Craigslist. This work-in-progress has a desperation to it, a rawness that should carry through to whatever the final iteration of this piece is. The stories themselves are quite ordinary, but it is Sam himself who draws you in and leaves you wanting more. Not necessarily more of the show, but more of his company. He seems like the kind of person you feel safe around.

Five Encounters uses anecdotes and a lot of audience participation to question how we as people can forge meaningful relationships. Something that kept coming up was the work by Arthur and Elaine Aron, The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. Thirty-six questions that are aimed to study emotional connection between two people. This study was originally sparked by the two researchers falling in love, and it’s used in this piece to explore connections between complete strangers.

Sam talks openly about the culture of casual sex perpetuated by advances in technology. The usage of online dating has tripled for under 25s in the last three years. More than 60 million people use Craigslist each month in the US alone. Does this mean we’re getting less capable of experiencing “interpersonal closeness”, as Arthur and Elaine Aron call it? Is it easier to be close with strangers than partners? Who knows. One of the great things about this show is that it doesn’t attempt to answer any of these things. It just gives you questions, the kind of which you may only come across whilst in the midst of an existential crisis.

There was a point in Five Encounters where I felt uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable being in the audience, but uncomfortable being with Sam in that situation. I didn’t want to be there with him, wanted him to get out, to be safe, even though what he was telling us had already happened. His delivery open and honest, every word and action welcoming you into the stories he tells. He brings you with him to every encounter.

After the first encounter, the first time Sam ever met anyone from online for a casual encounter, Sam talks about the walk back to campus. He mentions that he has to adjust his rucksack because the hammer he brought with him is knocking against his back. And it’s the little details like that which jolt you out of the place of comfort he settles you in as an audience member. No matter how much you’re enjoying the piece, there is an element of danger. We’ve all heard the statistics, just most of the time we don’t choose to acknowledge them.

As much as I hate the term, it’s a very brave piece. It’s bare. It’s openly admitting to something that there’s still a taboo around and saying that it’s okay to not be open with people. It’s okay to not know what your sexuality is right now, it’s okay to seek out physical intimacy with no strings attached. You do you.

Sam deals with a lot in this piece, and I left with questions buzzing around my head. More questions for myself than anything else. And I’m intrigued to see what Sam does with it now. It’s funny, it’s intimate, and it brings you achingly close to people you may have never known had it not been for this show.

 

 

 

On Tears

I hate crying.

Let me get one thing straight – I am a very emotional human. I cry at films a lot, books quite a bit, and I find it hard to watch live music because it gives me such a profound kick in the feelings I cannot help but unleash the waterworks. But that is good crying, predictable crying. But there’s that other crying. The one you do when you’re sad or frustrated or angry, and I hate it. It gives me a headache. It makes my throat hurt and my voice wobble and my eyes go bloodshot. And it doesn’t help. Not me, anyway.

I’ve always seen crying as a sign of weakness. I know it isn’t, I know that people who cry aren’t weak, but for me that is what it signifies. And I have no idea where that stems from. This typically masculine thing of not letting myself cry, I don’t know when it became such a set thing in my mind, and now I find it really hard to get rid of it. Especially now, when I need to cry.

On Wednesday 5th October, my Grandad died. My stepdad Nige’s dad. He had been in hospital for five weeks and he had been really ill, every phone call I got during that time I expected to hear the news that he’d passed away. But then he started to recover, and he was meant to be coming home on the weekend. So it was a shock. My mum called me. She was in bits, and when she said Grandad had died my reaction was “fuck” and then I tried to calm her down, I was rational and practical “I’m coming over. I’ll go home now and get some stuff and you can pick me up. Take ten minutes and have some water and calm down. See you in a bit.” And I went back into the lounge where my dad and his mum were, and they looked at me.

“My Grandad’s dead.” My tears came like a punch in the lungs, all at once and for about ten seconds, and then I stopped. I was shaking. I went and splashed my face. I was fine. I was fine.

Mum picked me up. She had been crying, was still crying, and I got in the car and made silly jokes on the way to Grandma’s and swore and was generally daft, but there were no tears. And I got to Grandma’s and hugged her and she was crying and I went and saw my little brother Sam in the back room and he wasn’t crying so we sat together and ate McDonalds and didn’t cry together.

All through Wednesday, I held it together. I made endless cups of tea and coffee and kept conversations going and answered the phone and kept things normal. I had a bit of a cry when my sister came over after work, and so did Sam and Grandma and Nige. And when I bedded down on the sofa that night, I listened to an audiobook for hours. I think I slept a bit. And when I went to Nige’s flat the next day my brother Joe was there and we had a hug and didn’t cry.

I haven’t really cried at all.

But tonight, I’m writing something to read out at Grandad’s funeral on Thursday. And I’m going through memories and noting them down and I can feel a constant threat of tears on the edges of my eyes, and I’m tamping them down with deep breaths and hard swallows. I’m terrified about Thursday. I’m terrified because I haven’t let myself remember Grandad yet, haven’t let myself feel the fact that he’s gone, and as I’m typing these words my eyes are blurring with tears and the back of the roof of my mouth hurts because I miss him so fucking much it is painful, and I can’t actually deal with it I thought writing about it would help but it isn’t and now I don’t know how I’m supposed to be dealing with whatever it is that I’m feeling because writing was always my way out but maybe that’s why, I can’t escape reality with this one, this is just something that I have to deal with and I don’t know how to and I’m scared.

I’m going to go for a cigarette on the steps outside the front door and let myself be sad for a bit. I don’t do that. When I told my mate Josh, he said that I should let myself be sad. That I didn’t have to be strong for people. That I’m allowed to be sad as well. But I don’t do that. I’ll just have to work out how to, I guess.

 

Miss you, Grandad.

 

Title of piece.

This is a mash.

A mad mash of thoughts because I have been sat in work all day and there has been absolutely nothing to do so my mind is having an existential crisis and bouncing off the inner walls of my skull and slightly damaging the paintwork.

Do you ever read your own writing and think: god that’s stupid I sound like a complete tosser, but then you read it a bit more and you think actually hey I’m pretty good at this writing malarkey and maybe I should do some more of it and then you have another read and think but what if it’s just me being full of myself because that’s a complete possibility as well and you feel like an imposter and then you realise that imposter syndrome is a thing and so you try to reconfirm your creative self worth and then you realise that this whole five minutes was either an exercise in inner pomposity or a lesson in self-pride or maybe both and then you realise that it’s only been five minutes and if my mind can do that in five minutes how the fuck am I meant to get though the next seven hours?

Nah. Me neither.

What I did do was do some research for a new show Powder Keg (my theatre company, look us up, we’re mint) are doing. It’s currently called Bears, and we say that’s a working title but really we know that the name will stay and we will be performing a show called Bears in the near future. The research is about polar bears and climate change and whatever you do, ladies and gents, whatever you do DO NOT research climate change when you are feeling slightly fragmented in the cranial department. It knocks you. Because it makes you actually think about the stuff that’s going on and the amount that we as human beings have fucked up the world and it’s not a nice thing to actually conside when there’s no-one to bounce ideas off and nothing to distract you. So I had a little melt down (pun completely intended, haha, the earth is dying) and moved on.

What I did do then was do some more research for a new project I’m working on, a book potentially, and so I was looking into the history of Manchester and the Industrial Revolution and whatever you do, ladles and gentlespoons, whatever you do DO NOT research the industrial revolution when you are feeling anything less than completely cranially competent. Because you look at a history of human suffering, of the move from cottage industries to massive fuck-off factories and the fact that thousands of people uprooted from the countryside to come to the big cities following some dream of prosperity and when they got there all they got was dismal wages and appalling living conditions and cholera. And that leads you to thinking “well, everything has improved, hasn’t it?” and you nod for a minute and then you go “nah, not really” because things haven’t improved so much as changed and I know that I as I am now have a much better standard of living than a twenty-four year old working class woman in the late 19th century but for some people there are sweat shops and diseases and a horrendous lack of civil rights. And that makes me feel angry and impotent and sad. So I moved on.

And this is just a little insight into my day. I feel like my brain has been scribbled on by a snotty child with a permanent marker. I want to go home and play guitar and ignore the world for a while. And I know that isn’t the way to deal with things. But sometimes you have to look inward. Wrap my mind in a warm jumper and comfy slippers and say “it’s going to be alright”, and ignore the gnawing sense that it isn’t.

Rant over. Please resume.

Every Brilliant Thing

Here’s another review, this time of Every Brilliant Thing. Safe to say I adored this show with every inch of myself. Enjoy.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe presented by Paines Plough | The Continental, Preston | 15th September 2016

I’m going to begin by saying, this isn’t a proper review. It’s thoughts scribbled down into a notebook on the train home, put into some semblance of order. It’s what I got from Every Brilliant Thing. It’s a lot.

Johnny is six. His dad picks him up from school instead of his mum because she’s “in the hospital.” She’s “done something stupid.”

How do you deal with your mum’s suicide attempt when you’re six? You write a list of everything worth living for. Starting with ice cream. You forget about it for a while, then pick it back up when she tries again, and you’re in your late teens.

Based on true and untrue stories, Every Brilliant Thing takes you through the life of Jonny, dealing with his mum’s depression from the age of six to the present day.

There’s a beautiful naivety about the list. It’s a very childish thing to do. And the show itself is very simple – it’s a story, and it’s told very well.  Every Brilliant Thing was everything I love about theatre. It was honest and heartfelt and funny and poignant, and I know that no words I scribble onto this page on the train home could ever do it justice. But I’ll try.

The space was brightly lit. There was a buzz in the room, a good mood through the chatter in the air. Johnny – the performer – was working his way around the room, talking to everyone and handing out numbered pieces of paper.

“When I say your number, just read out what’s written down.”

There were about sixty of us, holding fragments of a list, ready to be involved. At different points in the story the audience were asked to play different roles in Johnny’s life. His lecturer, his primary school teacher, his fiancee, his dad. And the audience participation felt like a natural thing to be doing. It felt like the only way to progress the story.

There was a point in the show when Jonny played “Some Things Last a Long Time” by Daniel Johnston on the piano. It was the closest I came to crying in the entire thing. It was beautiful.

This show said a lot of things. It said it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to look for help. It’s okay to not know what to do, because none of us know what we’re doing at least half of the time. We’re just taking it how it comes, and sometimes we just have to stop and take a breath and scream. It’s okay to need other people, because we’re human. Everybody knows somebody with depression. Everybody has known someone affected by suicide. And it is so important to talk about things like this. Mental health and suicide and death and loss and how very lucky we are to have this life and everyone we have in it and how beautiful it all is.

After the show I went outside and sat with two of my friends who had also been in the audience. We didn’t talk. I needed a beer and a cigarette. I needed to be alone and listen to music and think. I needed a hug. Every Brilliant Thing was exactly the show I wanted, exactly the show I needed to see at that moment in time. Which, thinking about it, would have been true at any point in time.

Everyone needs to see this. Go with a friend. Talk to someone. Smile. Start looking for all the brilliant things that make your life so quintessentially, irrevocably, magnificently yours. You are worth every breath you breathe.

The Island//.irl

Water lapping blue cobalt waves either side of the boat, engine churning white behind, island growing closer and closer.

Holy Island.

Should be travelling with monks and nuns and acolytes, be sharing this boat with the calm faced deep eyed follwers of a secret ancient religion not a cult not quite not sharing with tourists grannies wearing beige like all people do past a certain age and here we sit sailing towards the island

the island

the island

the island is a mountain where we’re greeted by soft speaking residential volunteer in earthy colours weather beaten no weather caressed face foreign accent can’t remember her name telling us the history with christians with druids with buddhists and it’s all the same really in the grand scheme of things and people of all creeds or none are welcome as long as they respect the customs and the residents of the island

the island

the island

the island has a path running around the west side from north to south about two kilometres and nothing on the east side that is for the wildlife the brown sheep the eriskay ponies please be careful near them you can never tell the temperament of an animal we walk under the burning sun following the path north to south between ferns ankle high waist high head high passing rocks with buddhist pictures on them maybe pictures of Bodhisatvas or however you spell it whatever you call them the believers the followers of buddhist values bright murals on the rocks and you wonder we wonder I wonder if in a hundred no a thousand years people will abndon this island and in a thousand years more new people will rediscover the island and the paintings and attribute them to an ancient religion with strange iconography and who knows where religion will be at that point or whether it will be there at all but for not it is now and the sun and the heat and the soles of your feet of my and the scrambling up rocks and jumping puddles and staring out across the water and thinking how perfect. How tranquil. How big, how blue, how beautiful it would be to stay here. It would be good for the soul, this place. This life on the island

the island

the island

the island is a place to get away from everything  to escape and work the land and get away from the materialistic consumerism of the rest of the world and find some inner peace but you have to have the money have to havr the five hundred pounds spare to spend five nights on the island not counting travel not counting how expensive it is to take a week off work these are the things that would be considered a waste of money and can only the rich have peace of mind only the wealthy can have inner calm and for us for you for me it is impossible we cannot afford to align our chakras balance our chis we have to find inner peace between minimum wage twelve hour shifts between broken families and cheap rented rooms between the cracks in the pavement and drags on a cigarette we don’t belong on the island.

The island.

The island.

The Island//SLH

Today we head for the island. It seems almost impossible that I am able to write those six words so soon after beginning our journey, but today is the day.

We managed to secure passage on a small tugboat. The owner has agreed to take us as long as we don’t tell him why we’re going. The less he knows, the safer he will be. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself. But the entire purpose of coming up to the North was to retrace Sir John’s footsteps. Go where he went. Find what he found. Work out why he went missing.

It’s a great relief to not be doing this alone. My good friend Abetha – Abbie, she hates her full name – has joined me. We’ve given up our jobs on the SLH to go on this journey, which seems ridiculous, but the captain assured me he’d take us back. I imagine a pair like us are hard to find.

Snobbing It.

And now, to Scotland! Some more writings I did whilst travelling through Scotland with my adventure companion Abbie Jones. Enjoy!

What is the opposite of slumming it?

We lived as the other half last night, pretending to have the money to wine and dine with the elite, keeping secrets, sitting at a candlelit dinner table straight backed, heads heigh, smiling quietly and laughing demurely, making small talk with waiters dressed in black, gliding from table to table ready to serve. He gave us a free drink for the delay in getting a table, and we laughed and thanked him and said it was no problem, knowing we wouldn’t have been able to afford another drink ourselves. We dined on soup of the day and a salmon risotto, making the most of the free bread and water. We were the last ones out of the restaurant.

Later on we sat in one of our rooms, meticulously calculating money, deciding to spend the next three nights living on cuppa soups and picnic snacks. Planning how to save the most money before continuing the journey. Scrimping and scraping for snack food to last, realising we are able to live on very little on a day to day basis. Saves on drink as well. Don’t eat for a day, have one pint, and you’re done.

There must be an opposite to slumming it. That’s what we’re doing. Snobbing it? Probably. It’s probably not a thing. Slumming it is the old Victorian thing, rich people in their insensitivities. Poor people, working people, didn’t do that, didn’t have time for that, had more dignity than that, were more morally switched-on, had more sense, had perceived how the other half lived and thought, I’ll never have that, I’ll never be rich, but as long as I have my health, as long as my family are together, as long as my children are fed. Treating money as a luxury. Riches as unnecessary. Living life on a daily basis.