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I Wish I Was Lonely is the brainchild of poet Hannah Jane Walker and theatre maker Chris Thorpe, which aims to break the conventions of theatre by asking their audience to leave their phones turned on. It was interesting and definitely showed potential, but for me it missed the mark a bit.
It’s a show (if I can really call it that) about contactability, a theme which I find to be growing seriously old and tired. If I have to sit through one more preachy production/lecture about the perils of technology, I think I’ll explode. Honestly though, by the end of I Wish I Was Lonely I wasn’t sure what argument it was trying to make; it swung from “technology is bad” to “technology is great” so quickly and so frequently that I sort of felt like I had whiplash. Equally, the show moved from moments of emotional gravity to those that were light and funny so quickly that I didn’t really get to feel either. It just didn’t seem to leave enough time for anything; had they taken out a few parts and focused a bit more on some of the others, it could have been really fantastic. As it is, it just seemed a bit inconsistent.
From the outset, I Wish I Was Lonely clearly had the ingredients to be brilliant. Arriving at the theatre and being asked to write your phone number on a piece of note paper “for the cast” was a little intimidating, as was walking into the round and being forced to sit on one of a haphazard arrangement of chairs in the centre of the performance space, being handed another person’s phone number and being instructed to leave them a voicemail. However, many of these moments that could have had the power to be beautifully unsettling and carry real weight were undermined by how friendly and reassuring the cast were. There were so many opportunities to cause discomfort and truly unnerve its audience, but none were fully utilised. The moments where I Wish I Was Lonely really hit its stride were those where the cast didn’t take a moment to reassure us about what was about to happen; when we were just told what to do and quickly did it. Sadly, those moments were few and far between. They were just too nice.
So far I’ve been fairly critical of the performance, but I actually did quite enjoy I Wish I Was Lonely. Its frequent use of audience participation had a way of connecting everyone watching. It created a sort of bond between everyone in the room, even beyond the messages we’d exchanged via mobile phone, culminating in the pairing up of the audience and request that we silently hold eye contact for 2 minutes (a weirdly intimate activity, it turns out). Of the many conventions of the theatre that this show aimed to break, this was arguably the most successfully executed: it definitely isn’t the standard show where you can sit next to another audience member for an hour and a half without ever glancing at them.
Ultimately, I Wish I Was Lonely was a very “almost” production. It was almost really emotive, but the quick switches in tone and subject matter meant none of the ideas could really take. It was almost really powerful, but the cast’s delicate approach meant everyone was too at ease to really feel the tension they were aiming for. It was almost a great production, but instead it was just okay.