There’s a man up there, talking. He’s not from around here. Not from this country; maybe not even from this planet, wherever that is. He’s telling us about his mother and his father, about how they do things a little bit the same, a little bit different where he comes from. Oh, they have words like we do, but they hold a parade for everything and make bad music when they’re courting.
Will Eno’s play Title and Deed is a tricky knot to unpick. There’s one man on an empty stage. When he walks on, there’s a backpack on his back. Inside it a stick and another small bag, that’s it. Sometimes he shows us the stick or the bag, but mostly he talks. He talks a lot, about a lot of different things. About funerals and eulogies: “everything is a eulogy if you have the right sense of humour.” About being lost: “don’t get lost for too long – they stop looking eventually.” And about talking and listening: “we should thank our lucky stars for the listeners of the world.” Some of the things he says make sense, but not all of them do. I think that’s intentional, but to be honest, I’m still not sure.
Despite outward appearances, all the man’s blustering about home and away, belonging and not belonging, how we do things where I’m from and how you might do things where you’re from and the loneliness that swirls around in the midst of it all, Title and Deed feels much more about language. Specifically, the limitations of words. About how, whether we want them or not, whether or not they’re suited to the task, all we’ve really got are words.
Like Churchill’s quip about democracy being the best of all bad forms of government, language is so often a wholly unsatisfactory means of expression, and yet what else have we got? Irish actor Conor Lovett’s performance of the un-named, un-homed man plays out like some kind of strange MadLibs, where every fill-in-the-blank gets scratched out and replaced twice before a still unsatisfactory word is settled upon. There’s a brilliant moment when Lovett takes the small bag out of the backpack, holds it up and says something about how some things just can’t be explained with words. We stare at the bag, he says nothing, just holds it there for a long moment and then puts it back in the backpack. It’s funny and the audience obliges with a laugh, but there’s no avoiding the fact that words race through one’s mind while staring in silence at the bag. “I wouldn’t trade the words for anything,” Lovett says. For, really, what else is there?