Finally, a return to live Fringe theatre! A return to glorious distraction, thought provoking art and much needed entertainment. As I walked through the quaint corridor of Sweet Old Steine, it struck me that the first show I’d chosen to watch since 2019 was named ‘Social Distancing’ – so much for escapism. But how joyfully wrong I was.
Tommy Papaioannou’s writing is beautiful, a delightful mix of delicate emotion and subtle humour, so wonderfully weird, poetic and verbose I was reminded of reading the words of Salman Rushdie. The main dialogue was expertly dispersed by Larisa Munoz Meija’s equally engaging Orwellian voiceover, oozing perky dystopian doom in that irritating way that devices do. Direction by Sara Svati is meticulous, movements decisive, clear, and strangely constant. I came to realise I’d never seen a one person show with such an amount of concise, deliberate movement, and it really works. Although minimal, moments of slow-motion movement during voiceovers distracted from this and seemed to lack consistency.
Papaioannou is a pleasure to watch as ‘X’, stacking memory filled boxes only to manoeuvre himself delicately around them, whilst simultaneously reciting an intricate monologue with flawless delivery. Despite such an absurdist concept, ‘X’ remained believable and very human and Papaioannou remained dutifully in character when dealing with fan-assisted flyaway paper props. The continual building and patient destruction of cardboard towers was strangely mesmerising, and I found the performance, especially when coupled with the blacked-out studio and tingly ASMR voiceover, to be a strangely meditative experience, a vibe even supported by Papaioannou’s costume of pastels and cloud socks.
This was entirely unexpected for a few reasons, one being that in my opinion the marketing materials somewhat missed the mark in paralleling the performance. On a second read since watching, the show is explained well in the synopsis, and best it can given it’s absurdist nature; it is of course up to audience interpretation. However, from first glance of the Black Mirror-esque image I was ready for something much more dark and sinister, and although Papaioannou certainly created an air of anxious tension that kept the audience on their toes, the show was far lighter in nature than I had anticipated. It is worth noting that I preferred the latter, and the surprise was a wholly welcome one. The second reason is down to the name of the production, ‘Social Distancing’. No matter how desperately important and necessary the two little words still remain, I for one am tired of reading them, and despite the clever double entendre intended I wonder if prospective audiences may have absent mindedly avoided the show as a result of negative connotations.
The sheer effort put into an hour long one person show in terms of writing, performance and direction is something Textile Theatre should be really proud of; to my mind it elevated this show from something dangerously teetering on the edge of overdone to a piece of truly original and thoroughly engaging theatre. My audience companion and I are still talking about it today. Isn’t that what great theatre should do? Have you dissecting it over a drink afterwards, on the way home, and into the next day?
There was no autofill here, Textile Theatre have given their audience utter autonomy to decide how they feel about what they have just seen, with room to discuss, consider and question. And what better way? As ‘X’ tells us himself, in desperate mantra, ‘no two likes are alike’.