River – Claire Lovering and lonliness. (Theatre Review)



Old 505 Theatre

The difference between loneliness and solitude is more than choice, and it is more than circumstances. We know we can feel lonely in a crowd and we know that we can feel a overwhleming connection with everything in the universe in solitude. In her introduction to River, Claire Lovering writes a simple and pure statement of the experience of loneliness she felt first arriving in Sydney in 2010 having left WAAPA and seeking a foothold to start a brilliant career across the other side of our enormous country. She describes the rudderless early days as the impetus for the creation of a routine that harkened back to school years, those times when timetables, obligation and inexperience usually protected us from adult cares such as anxiety and the overwhelming feeling of being deeply alone.  Loneliness is more than not being seen. It’s an absence of solidarity, not being able to relate your version of a moment, the lack of an intimate mirror we can search to see ourselves. This is the kind of loneliness Claire understood when she first moved to Sydney, away from friends and family, at a time when dreams and vision seemed more real than every day circumstances. Claire talks about seeking public spaces where she could spend her hours in the riling against anxiety and sharing a room with nameless others. Out of the time observing and searching in these spaces, River was born.

River is one of those people we hear about whose need for care will long outweigh their parent’s life. She is cheerful, and embraces existence, but she is reduced to simplicity, perhaps through mental capacity, perhaps through lack of sophisticated adult experience. She is the fragile create our parents see when we imagine we successfully fake confidence on our first day at our first job. Most of all she is alone, profoundly alone, making herself busy with a menial occupation she doesn’t quite understand (how many of us have done that before) and keeping track of which work colleagues prefer which biscuits from the Arnotts assorted selection. She is an artist, a whiz with tin foil and a busker who taught herself to play the xylophone. She is busy, interested and engaged. But she has no one to share her vision of life with, no one to gain feedback from, no one to reflect life back to her. River knows she is alone, doesn’t know she is lonely, but instinctively is drawn to finding someone to talk to. She sits in the places Claire Lovering first found her in, and she talks into the open space, waiting for her words to catch with someone of a like mind.


Claire Lovering has put together a beautiful monologue about the importance of human connection and why, even in our deepest need for solitude, we still need at least one person to have their hand out ready for us to take. River was written in response to Lovering’s own feelings of loneliness, but over several incarnations, workshopped and dramaturged with Sarah Giles, the piece has become an intricate work, deceptively appearing as simple as River herself, and yet searing in its examination of what it is to be human. Through River, Lovering examines the nature of relationships, their value beyond the barrier to loneliness. They are not always a panacea to pain, sometimes they are simply a way to think beyond the borderless expanse of our own universe, a realisation of something outside, by fencing our minds and pinning us to the moment. River’s world is simple, and poignantly beautiful, but it is also piercing and insightful laying the surface before us as if it were a vehicle to depths beneath. When Lovering performs as River, she is never just River, she is each of the audience, she is everyone in the street and she is the nameless people we suspect exist but may not have included in our lives. Brought to life by Lovering, we feel sorry for River, but we envy her also, as her life seems as magical as it is tragic. Just like our own.

The recent performance of River at The Old 505 Theatre was particularly enhanced by the always careful and excitingly enigmatic lighting of Benjamin Brockman and the delicately crafted sound work of Nate Edmondson. The variety of talent and skill used to create River shine when challenged by the simplicity of the piece. River is a piece far larger than it seems, as cohesive an experience of disparate parts as the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. It is a moving piece of theatre, an emotional flow as its name suggests, that you won’t soon forget.