There are three ways, at least, of experiencing Kim Noble’s show: revulsion at the staggering invasions of privacy that Noble has perpetrated on people around him – all unwitting strangers; laughter at the utter egregiousness of his acts, like fashioning a chicken breast into a vagina so that he can send a picture of it to a man who thinks Noble is a woman; melancholy at the profound themes of his show – solitude, mortality – and the gentle, childlike, visceral way he confronts them and reveals his experience of them. It is entirely possible to pass through all three during the course of the hour.
You’re Not Alone is a mixture of live art, video and stand up that feeds off extremes. Noble takes us through bits of his life over the past few years, projects that are an attempt to seek connection in a solitary existence. He films everything obsessively and secretly, never asking for consent and seemingly uninterested in whether or not it would be given. Comic moments come partly from the socially unacceptable things he does, like defecating in a church, and partly from complete silliness, like the thumping 80s tunes (Don Henley, Phil Oakey) he plays before the show begins. It is an unsettling blend. But as soon as the laughter hits its peaks Noble will offer some deeply moving sentiment on the theme of loneliness and we are in a different world.
Noble plays with the theme in different ways. Audiences are strange things – despite being surround by hundreds of other people, a show can seem quite solitary, a personal and private experience. Noble forces interaction between us. He films us secretly before the show and plays the videos on stage. We are not alone if we are being surveilled all the time. And his manner is not threatening or frightening, instead it’s curious, tender and sweet.
But there is a danger of becoming distracted by the out and out transgressive nature of the things he has done, the ethical dubiety, rather than to focus on what Noble wants to say by doing them. His projects are invasive, but born of a childlike desire to connect. Charting and recording his neighbours’ sex life through a hole he drilled in the wall is less about them than it is about him, the odd act of a man turning it into a project, just so that he has a distraction from a lonely life.
And Noble hasn’t really hurt anyone. When he gives Keith, a cashier in Morrisons, several fake awards he is doing it out of kindness to a man whom he has deemed to be lonely. By pretending to be a woman, Noble gives other lonely men some solace and connection and sexual gratification. These acts are inherently benevolent.
When he films himself caring for his father, wiping his bottom and washing him, then shows the film on stage it seems like another step too far. This is too personal, nothing to do with us. His father hasn’t consented, and naked elderly bodies are rarely seen by anyone other than carers. But it’s not gratuitous, transgression for its own sake, but an unsettling and tragic reminder of just how lonely old people can become, how dependent they are on others not just for physical maintenance but for emotional and mental sustenance too.
By including the ridiculous moments within these disturbing stories Noble ensures that his show can be seen as comedy, but comedy of a deeply profound sort. For a man so fearless, Noble comes across as raw and vulnerable too. He seeks out and forces connections in the oddest places in an attempt to combat isolation. He seems to be afraid of absolutely nothing – except being alone.