Annie Siddons’s story is an epic tale of truth and the triumph of admitting it. Through spoken word, film, music and a walrus mask, Annie begins to get to the bottom of it: loneliness and shame are very real disempowering bastards, whose influence can push anyone into freefall down the rabbit hole.
I was a bit nervous about seeing this. I think Siddons and I are neighbours, it feels that close to home. But, typically, she has a better van. And when she opens with her monologue about London I want to weep. I want a poster of those words for my wall: the city with an “old soul of 9 million beating hearts”. When she describes the “petrol” smell of London in heat I want to stand up and cry “YES! I remember!” I am swept away here, and we are only 10 minutes in. Her words are a commanding tapestry, creating echoes throughout the piece. I barely notice the visuals at this point; their stain not required as I already know there will be no peace. Siddons is a refugee from the part of herself that is embodied by London and presents a powerful, hilarious and honest testimony which comforts and confronts in unflinching and equal measure.
Siddons details her attempts to fit in a new life in Zone 5 via book groups and playgroups. As mothers we try anything. And usually keep trying for far too long, patching things up as we go along. On stage Adam Robertson acts as Siddons’s alter ego. Siddons looks on, mostly quite bemused, as though looking back at the painful past is disconcerting and disconnecting – literally like watching someone else. The suburbs are a metaphor for so much. She has been exiled from her own life and can only look back over her shoulder with wonder, and around her present with a horror you can’t quite articulate at the time.
But don’t get me wrong. This show is utterly hilarious. Siddons and Richard De Dominici’s film that accompanies Annie’s story is brilliantly funny. From the surreal communing with nature in Richmond Park (I think?) to Chekhovian break-up bleakness, Siddons has clearly been through it, but never lost her sense of humour. (Even with the Chugger outside the Pitcher and Piano – my favourite one of all.) It distracts from the pain. That’s how she keeps going.
Siddons never rubs it in, but it’s clear how destructive this time was to her life force and energy. She doesn’t want sympathy or to move us enough to cry real tears. I’m sure she’s already done enough of that along the way.
How (Not) To Live in Suburbia was on as part of PULSE 16. Click here for more of their programme.