Writing a show to mark your 30th birthday and then putting it in front of audiences full of people who don’t know you is a gutsy move. But Manchester-based artist Lowri Evans’ solo piece never feels like a massive vanity project. It’s a down-to-earth, funny and at times quietly moving reflection on ageing and change.
Evans actually turned 30 last year – which was when The Secret Life of You and Me was first performed – but it doesn’t really matter. While that big birthday is the show’s trigger, it doesn’t define its limits. Over an hour, Evans weaves a greater collage out of photos, recorded phone calls, projections of scrapbooks and extracts read from dog-eared books.
With a smile shared over common ground, Evans is engaging as she touches on the things that niggle over time, like are we living the ‘right’ life? Are other people doing it better? In a very amusing sequence of photos, she tries out different lifestyles via different outfits in a department store. Rooted in the everyday, it captures the depressing commodification of self-expression as airbrushed fantasy by the likes of Grazia.
Elsewhere, memories of reverse-charge calling her disgruntled Dad as a child prompt Evans to do it again as an adult, with the recording of this conversation full of the matter-of-fact richness of lives that have branched together and apart. The show throbs with this, and with death and love, as old people wave from hospital windows and relationships finish at the end of a bus route.
A mournful soundtrack strains a little too hard for pathos, but for the most part Evans succeeds at painting life in real colours: as a place where we all live, full of familiar sights and sounds, streets and avenues. Her rendering of it is comically resonant. At one point, she dons a safety helmet and goggles, clambers precariously up a ladder and says: “Sometimes, this is how I feel.” Haven’t we all?
When I turned 30, I quit my office job, tired of dispiritingly long days spent doing something I didn’t enjoy and the empty darkness of my flat when I got home in the evening. I could too easily imagine it going on forever. Getting old no longer seemed an abstract thing; I could feel it happening. And my ability to choose who I might be in the years to come felt rather more precious than it had in my twenties.
It’s this that Evans captures so well, and unpretentiously, here: beginning with a birthday and going forwards with wit, insight and a wry smile, she puts a frame around that point in life when you start to look back at where you’ve been and where you’ve ended up. And you realise just how much the smallest things count.