Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Blending performance, comedy and film, Kim Noble tries to get close to other people on this planet. Keith for instance. You maybe. You’re Not Alone is a provocative, moving and comic production that chronicles one man’s attempts at connection, friendship and employment at B&Q. Kim Noble takes his audience on a journey through tower blocks, supermarkets and Facebook, seeking an escape from the loneliness of modern society. It is an intimate glimpse into the mind of an eccentric genius.
It is quite difficult to shock people any more – so exposed are we to images of internet porn, dead bodies on the news and crude discussions of sex. Yet, I can safely say that at many times Kim Noble’s show was deeply shocking and provoked feelings of disgust. And I am not saying this is entirely a bad thing, I think that theatre can so frequently be a passive experience that gets ‘consumed’, it is interesting to be confronted with a show that gets under your skin (and in my case gave me some very disturbing dreams.)
The themes of this show are ultimately about isolation and loneliness and the desire to connect with people, which are embodied most poignantly by the sections of video footage between Noble and his ageing father who lives with dementia in a care home. These raw pieces of hidden camera film are painful to watch, as you get a unique insight into the desolate isolation experienced by so many of our elders, left in homes to die. It is this section where the piece excels itself and presents us with something very special, made even more real by the rawness you already feel thanks to the preceding content.
However, the way Noble chooses to explore his own loneliness in the rest of the piece I found incredibly challenging from an ethical and moral standpoint. His style is largely characterised by showing us secretly filmed video footage and text messages and by playing us recordings of phone calls with people he has been forming relationships with on the internet, as his alter-ego, Sarah. It is clear that none of this is made up, and we are hearing and seeing real people who he has been communicating with and is now exposing to the gaze of any number of unknown strangers at the Edinburgh Fringe and beyond. These people have not given their consent to be part of his show, and in their own way they too are lonely and vulnerable, and speaking to strangers on the internet for their own reasons. There were times that I could barely watch, so uncomfortable did I feel about what was being shown to me, yet at the same time feeling horribly guilty as much of it was really quite funny.
I also took issue with the fact of a man who does not identify as trans*, communicating with people on the internet as a woman, and then dressing up as said woman and meeting them in real life. We saw video footage of these meetings, and whilst fortunately nothing unpleasant happened to Noble, this does nothing to dispel the ‘monstering’ of trans* people in the public consciousness.
Despite having an enormous amount of difficulty with this show, I would highly recommend that it is seen. It is not often that such intense moral and social questions are raised by a piece of theatre, with the power to affect you so viscerally and really make you think. Kim Noble is an extraordinary person, known for his battles with mental illness, which is transparent in this work. Yet loneliness is not a mental illness, it is something we will all feel at some point, and perhaps it is this universality of experience that means it would have been hard to leave You Are Not Alone without feeling affected in some way.