Waiting for a show to begin while the performers are already onstage is often an awkward experience, especially when you’re alone. Unsure where to look, you find yourself busying yourself with non-existent tasks or looking anywhere other than where the actors are waiting. Yet, with Loneliness and Other Adventures, there is no place for such unease; the intimate Drayton Arms Theatre has been transformed into a young woman’s living room that you have been invited into.
The living space created onstage oozes cosiness and tranquility – from the cushions spread out on the floor to the fairy lights twinkling in the background. The sunset-coloured lights shining down on Mollie Semple as she waits for the performance to begin add warmth, which is further complimented by the soothing music playing as people wander in. There are also many subtle touches in the stage design to take delight from, such as the various potted plants and the artwork and photos hanging on invisible walls – featuring one of Polly Nor’s illustrations that harness in on female identity (and are worth checking out). There is a great atmosphere created in these pre-performance moments, which readies us for the personal worries Semple is going to share. We are in a safe space where we can be honest and not be judged.
At 21, Semple fears that her time is up. With her search for the one so far unsuccessful, she reveals the underlying dread of being forever alone that permeates her current existence. Semple is as fun and bright as her sunshine-yellow outfit. Her quick wit shines through when tender moments with ex-boyfriends go awry, and there is real sincerity behind those words that echo her fear of there being something wrong with her – as if she is to blame for her failed relationships. Her brutal honesty about her previous trysts, masturbation and dating apps add humour to what could have been 45-minutes of a young woman pitifully feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Semple seems to have just found the right balance in exploring the fun and fear that comes with looking for that special someone.
One small drawback of the production is the restlessness brought about by the multiple musical interludes that break up Semple’s running monologue. Semple seems hyper-aware of the fact that she is alone onstage (in earlier versions of the production, she was accompanied by a trio of supportive women). This need to fill the space means she is constantly moving around on stage; one minute getting a blanket to curl up with, only to discard it a few moments later. Although the use of music to set the mood and prevent Semple’s monologue coming across as a lecture is appreciated – and has good intention behind it – there are times when it feels erratic and not wholly necessary. Given the calm atmosphere created by the set design, it seems a shame that Semple doesn’t appear to be totally comfortable in her surroundings.
Still, that doesn’t take away from the poignancy behind Loneliness and Other Adventures. It is a piece that addresses the difficulty of finding a partner in 21st-century society, and the insecurity that can manifest as a result. More than this, though, Semple’s piece presents a woman who has learnt to be confident in herself and to appreciate the love she already has around her. Worth a mention are the recorded interviews interspersed throughout the play, which also remind us that it’s easy to find someone else in a similar situation. At the end of the day, even now in this small theatre, we come to realise that we’re never truly alone.