Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Jacky used to teach people how to see and understand each other better. But when she starts to find that difficult in her own life, it unleashes a dark habit from within her. Despite her lifetime of training Jacky no longer wants you to see and understand her as well as you wish. But that’s the reason you came! Touch is a warm and charming story that guides you through the calamitous forgotten corners of our sense of self-worth.”
Touch is a new one woman play by Ciarán Myers and Asylon Theatre which addresses questions of self worth and the possibility of true human connection. Set in a suicide ward, the audience are confronted with Jacky (Katarzyna Wizental), a young female patient who desires human contact. Jacky worked as a life coach but now she suffers from many of the issues that her former patients were dealing with. As such, she is intensely aware of the nature of her insecurities and unusually articulate about how they affect her. Throughout the hour, she discusses her thoughts and feelings about these issues and reflects about emotional connection and human relationships in general. It seems that we (the audience) are a group of medical professionals who have been invited to take part in her ‘classes’ – which have been established as part of her program of therapy and also serve to provide ‘us’ with an opportunity to consider a case-study of this kind.
Jacky invites the audience to engage throughout the performance. She holds hands, requests a hug and even provides an opportunity for an audience member to sit with her on stage. These invitations add to the intimacy of the performance. They are not forced and work well within the world that is constructed. Unlike other instances of audience participation, these invitations add to the overall effect even when audience members are reluctant to engage by accentuating the isolation of the character and reinforcing the clinical nature of the environment (suicide ward) and the problematic of true human intimacy discussed throughout.
The performance is very slow pace but still manages to maintain my attention. This is partly due to an underlying tension that operates during the hour. There is an ambiguity to this character that is played nicely. Whilst clearly vulnerable, it is difficult to ascertain how far this vulnerability goes. We are presented with the makings of an intensely strong and intelligent woman, but there is something unnerving and unpredictable about this and it feels as if she might lose control at any moment.
The writing is strong, Myers manages to introduce a number of ideas without the performance feeling too like a lecture. Wizental has also worked hard to absorb the script, draw it from the page and imbue it with life. Marta Mari’s directing is both unobtrusive and sensitive – she allows the text to breathe and provides the performer with a basic framework from which to work. She has not overcomplicated the performance with difficult movement or transitions and overall, it feels like a very confident and mature piece of work.
There are a few instances where the performance begins to feel slightly melodramatic (I’m thinking specifically of the moment when Jacky recounts a meeting with her cell mate next door) – something which is very easy to do when working with themes of this kind. Even though the issues tackled are extremely dark, there is potential for more variation in terms of tone and I would like to have seen more strength to the Wizental’s character, some lightness perhaps? For example, there are points where humour might be introduced to highlight the complexity of her intelligence and self awareness – when Jacky discusses the love of her bruises for example, it is very moving, but also slightly ridiculous.
Regardless, this is a great piece of work from an exciting new company. I look forward to seeing their next piece of work and would Highly Recommend that you see this one.