The figure of the stranger is one aptly swallowed up by the theatrical situation; the audience member standing next to you, whom you’ve never met before. Or the performer onstage who suddenly strikes you as very familiar. Or the anonymous text message you receive during a show that tells you all about a situation that might not happen, that could happen, that you will be contacted for, should it happen.
I Wish I Was Lonely is a show about strangers, and strangeness, one in which you’re invited to keep your phone on, to welcome in those who might be calling you during the time, to construct poems collectively, and send brief thoughts to a number you’ve never heard of before. It primarily concerns itself with questions of intimacy and otherness, with the boundary between obsession and compulsion, between presence and absence, between private and public.
Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe construct a situation of theatrical play, in which we’re invited to consider intimacy and authenticity through closeness, friendship and embodiment. At times, Walker and Thorpe speak to us about their own relationships and the ways in which they’ve been mediated by their devices, their individual use of them, their technological phobias and loves. At others, they act as conduits, recalling lovers with broken hearts, people who have just met, those who have been brought closer by a moment, those who are falling and fallen in love. We’re active in this act of rhetoric, moving from a cluster to a congregation, invited to connect with a stranger.
There’s a striking structural simplicity that is suited to I Wish I Was Lonely, but also invites a distancing from something that we should collectively want to own. There are very tender, delicate moments of real encounter in the show, and somehow, those are re-contextualised by an unwelcomed didacticism, placing emphasis on the ways in which loneliness might not be such a bad thing after all; loneliness holds an intimate and inward poetics that we’re missing.
The emphasis of the show is on thinking through frontiers of intimacy, through poetics of communication that technology- even more so, phones- allows or dispels. In that way Walker and Thorpe guide us through situations where communication shifts between people, modes of mediation and reception. This is, then, a performance of shifts: poetic to rhetorical, didactic to playful, live to documented.
The theatrical situation is very much deployed as a means to construct spaces of discussion, which is the strongest element of I Wish I was Lonely. At the same time, there’s a constant wrapping up of the public and the private in these questions of authenticity of communication, that’s tied to boundaries; Walker and Thorpe are inviting us to think about what those boundaries might be for us, for how they might help us connect more authentically not just to one other, but to ourselves too.