Camden Fringe 2019
The first show by the brand new collective ‘Pursued by a Dragon’, formed by upcoming artists from different parts of the world. Feeling Lonely at Parties is directed by Yusuf Niazi and it is a physical piece with no words, set in a dystopian future where people are forced to wear headphones to regulate their mood.
Marketed as “a 1-hour long piece with no words”, a silent piece may well come to mind. However, ‘Feeling lonely at Parties’ is in fact a one-hour long physical piece with no dialogue, but plenty of music! The story is told on a stripped-down black box stage by six people (or three couples) who are citizens of this dystopian world and one puppet master. It follows three love stories of people who try to form relationships when their headphones are broken – dealing with aspects of love, mental health, loneliness and how the three intertwine.
The citizens are wearing purple jumpsuits similar to those of factory workers, but which do also have a striking resemblance to prison uniforms. Around their heads are some big black headphones with an extra strap around the chin holding them into place. Whether this is done for technical reasons or not doesn’t matter, because it immediately sparks the thought that these headphones are restrictive and impossible to take off – which is great.
The show warms up the audience into the style as the citizens show us a normal day in that dystopian future. Cheery music is playing – evidently what the characters are hearing from their headphones too and everyone is happily going about their business. Every time something annoying happens to one of the characters the music immediately switches to aggressive heavy metal before they take a breather and go back to being cheerful.
There is some excellent physicality by everyone, but this is also the point where you start to wonder whether the piece intends to be over the top physically or if it’s the absence of dialogue that has forced the actors to be more over the top than they need to. There is a beautiful moment where one of the characters brushes their teeth, it is so wonderfully exaggerated – it works! And as the show proceeds more and more of these moments appear; the throwing of an imaginary bouncy ball is done brilliantly, the passive-aggressive fight over the use of a water dispenser is so real, the way people switch on when the puppet master controls them and many more.
The physicality of the puppet master is also on point and perhaps it is the moment they first appear on stage controlling people’s thoughts and moods that the audience is given the confirmation that the play indeed intends to embrace over the top physicality to tell the story. Moving forward I really believe this piece can make the leap to outstanding if every single movement is as strong and as brave physically as those mentioned.
Another merit of the show is how the three stories connect and it is not a case of here is story one, now story two, etc.… No. The first story ends (which is worth mentioning is the love story between two men) at a club and suddenly we rewind, we go back to a room with the puppet master controlling our characters before they set off to work in a factory. We start again, this time following our second couple and we see many of the same scenes from their perspective this time, before ending up to the club again. The same thing happens with the third love story (between two women) until we are finally at the end – the big confrontation and battle against the puppet master.
In general, the accompanying music and sounds are very well arranged by sound designer Ben Devlin and director Yusuf Niazi. However, I couldn’t help thinking that the show would be lifted if all music used was instrumental (or in an ideal world where budget isn’t an issue all music used was original!) The main reason for this is that some of the songs’ lyrics provided unnecessary exposition. For example, when the last couple appears to be walking by the beach and then rolls down looking at the stars, the actors have created the atmosphere so beautifully and we know exactly where they are, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. As the music is playing a line is heard saying something along the lines of “looking at the stars”. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not needed.
Another one of these moments is at the club where Rihanna’s ‘We found love (in a hopeless place)’ is playing. The music does indeed fit perfectly, but the lyrics are unnecessary, because we can see how hopeless this place is, we can feel it and the lyrics take away from the magic that has already been created without them.
Overall this was a very good show by this new theatre collective, it is evident that a lot of work and thought has gone into it and the cast gave some very good performances. It tackled the topic of mental health and how it is dealt with and treated in our society with care and attention to detail and finished off with a very hopeful and inspiring message. Well done to ‘Pursued by a Dragon’ and everyone involved.