Singled Out – Augusta Supple and the ecstasy of alone. (Theatre Review)
The question of living alone is a very modern one. Not that people haven’t lived alone before, but this is the first time in recorded history that human creatures, on mass are choosing to live alone. In Paris, more than half the households contain single people, and in Stockholm this figure rises to sixty percent. And despite America’s image as self-reliant, Germany, France, Britton and Japan all have more singles living alone that the USA. Australia, it is predicted, will have thirty percent single households by 2020. It also should be added that this living alone caper is socioeconomically specific. It seems, if you can afford it, your nationality is irrelevant. It is no accident that the three nations with the fastest growing economies, China, India and Brazil, also have the fastest growing population of single people.
The cause of this is rooted out in books like Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg, and it’s not just because we are all socializing on the internet. It has a lot to do with the functional breakdown of traditional households, rising cost of living and extended longevity. Much of this as to do with the decline of the appeal of marraige, but it also has to do with a natural desire for autonomy and the spiritual and mental health that comes from being single. This reality sits in stark contrast to the stigma of single living, which is perfectly summed up in a cartoon a friend sent me recently featuring a woman opening her front door to a horde of cats who trooped in unexpected. The caption read: “We heard you were single and over forty”.
One of the things the single life does give rise to, is a remarkable private life, the freedom to gather many idiosyncrasies and peculiar traits unto oneself in the secrecy of the undiscovered. This is an odd freedom of self-expression that isn’t harnessed necessarily, but is becoming more and more a potent and necessary part of life. “My own space” is a phrase that has edged its way into common parlance and it is deemed “healthy” in pop psychology to get time to yourself every day. But what is it we DO in that space when we have it to ourselves devoid of the possibility of intrusion? Who are we when regularly alone? How do we know we are alive without feedback from the “other”; with only our own version of our reflection? Is it all singing into hair brushes and a OCD attitude to cleanliness?
The question really is, what do you do with all that time, when it is not being filled by the other?
Augusta Supple thought the rise of singledom and its peculiar ability to give a person the time to “creatively” be themselves without the (often) dulling effects of a witness, was the perfect vehicle for a play. Gathering together more than thirteen playwrites, she places all their various vignettes on the one stage, giving the impression of an apartment block filled with single people. Each small five to ten minute play is a different writers version of the secret alone self exposed. This involves perspectives such as a man in an intense relationship with his goldfish; a woman’s aching admiration for a dying grandmother as she tries to put together an Ikea book-case alone; the Whitman-esque barbaric yawp of a man sick and alone on his toilet seat; a woman going a little nuts over a lover who jilted her and a neighbour who won’t stop pissing in her pot plants; neighbours who forge a bond through their aloneness, and another pair who tap through the walls but never speak. There are moments of real beauty, moments that are very funny and moments of revelation as soliloquies of the solitaires are pronounced with great pride in their circumstances. There are moments when you see yourself, and many moments of envy as all the characters, many on the stage at the same time, reveal the hidden unity that numbers and awareness produce. As the outcome of the small play The Intruder reveals, I’ll look in on you, and you look in on me, is a way to stay safe, sane and consensual when you want to be gloriously, deliciously alone.
As if it’s not exciting enough to have a team of marvellous writers (read their details here), Supple has assembled an exciting cast with plenty of familiar faces, some fairly new ones, all of them talented, enthusiastic performers. It was thrilling to see Kate Fitzpatrick on the stage in a beautiful piece called Barb when her dreams and midnight minds meanderings are brought to vivid life through the words of Sarah Carradine. Leofric Kingsford-Smith gets very up close and personal with a dear departed mother, and Amanda Stephens Lee gives an earnest, beautiful, (if a tad scary) monologue that is a declarative stand to carry on alone after a relationship has failed. Prior to the entrance to the theatre, The Singing Accountant gives us the demographics and economic advantages of living alone. All the cast embody the pleasures, the torments and the peculiar bliss of being alone as well as the intimate relationship one can have with the expanse inside. Supple glides her cast around the enormous chess board of life, solitary pieces somehow a part of a game they cannot control, on a giant chess board that brings people face to face with a wall in between. Singled Out is a fine production that gets you thinking and chatting long into the night.
Singled Out is at the Seymour Centre 2-12 October. You can grab your tickets here.
The photography in this post is courtesy of Marnya Rothe.