Adelaide Fringe 2013
Through song and a rapid-fire monologue, an unnamed narrator (played by Joanna Sutton) explains what it’s like to be an insomniac. The fight to not fall asleep on the tram, the crowded thoughts, and the days and nights melding into each other in a constant waking nightmare. The metaphor used to describe insomnia is a cat that comes into one’s life, and the cat slowly becoming the master of the human, the human both loving and loathing the creature at once.
Insomnia Cat Came to Stay started fifteen minutes late, which did not put me in a receptive mood. However, the show luckily has a fantastic start, with the performer, Sutton, wrapped up in white sheets, looking ethereal. The lights and sound, once they had their glitches sorted out, were rather fascinating.
As the performer would stand on the stage, delivering her monologue, the sound would create an ambient atmosphere, and the lights projected images onto the screen behind the performer, and the performer herself. This was an integral part of the play, as the images would reflect the performer’s mental state.
The performer, Sutton, should be commended for not only having to remember so much dialogue, but also for being able to deliver it in a style that was so quick I was amazed she never stumbled over her words. And she has an operatic voice that is rough and gravelly around the edges, making the songs lovely to listen to.
But that’s the problem. After a smashing rendition of ‘Satisfaction’, the original songs after that all started to sound the same. They were droning ballads with unmemorable lyrics, and more than once I checked my watch during them.
The play itself, the narrative, described what it was like to be an insomniac… and that’s all it did. There were no stakes involved, and there was very little revealed about the character to make me actually care about her. We know how insomnia plagued her, but did it endanger her job? Affect her relationships? It’s hinted that the insomnia developed over time because she was able to sleep as a child, but how did it develop? These are all questions to which I was seeking an answer, and to which none were given.
To pad out the time, the performer would state some facts about sleep, which admittedly were interesting at the start, but after a while, like the songs, it just seemed to be a gimmick that outstayed its welcome. I learnt that you can go crazier from lack of sleep quicker than lack of food, but I was starting to go crazy not from lack of sleep or food, but boredom with the meandering, bare plotline and constant yammering monologue.
But, it just may be that Insomnia Cat Came to Stay simply wasn’t my cup of tea. The audience seemed to enjoy the performance, laughing at Sutton’s quips, staying respectfully quiet throughout the piece, and Sutton received a booming round of applause at the end of it.
The best part of the piece for me was the metaphor of insomnia being like a cat. It was a beautifully written scene, and Insomnia Cat Came to Stay is a visually stunning play, credit going to Tom Russell for the artwork. Sutton gave it her all, and she did her best with the challenging task of not only having to sing solo, but memorise and deliver words so speedily that even Noel Coward would get a headache.
But, Insomnia Cat would do well with tightening up its script in places, and making the plot a bit more interesting, the songs more varied. To propel the story forward rather than just having the story seem like it was on a continuous loop as the performer slowly went more and more loopy.
Patchy in places, but still a play that manages to have a performer with panache and pretty visual effects, Insomnia Cat Came to Stay will either have you sitting upright in your seat or starting to wonder whether it’s appropriate to start napping in a theatre.