When a girl’s conversation with a lemon makes you smile, you know you’re both seeing an unusual show, and one that’s performed with virtuoso skill and panache.
Physical theatre is a terribly broad label, and it’s normally not a category that lights my fire. But I was surprised and delighted by this show. Invisible City combines physicality, sound, lighting, and hugely witty dialogue to add up to something somehow greater than the sum of its parts: the alienation of living in a large city, away from your family and friends, is laid before you in an astonishingly heartfelt way.
Lowri Jenkins starts the solo show as small-town girl Marie by successfully achieving one of the most difficult things to do in a theatre – talking to the audience as individuals – and getting individual responses. And she gets the first response almost before she has spoken. The awkwardness and embarrassment of first saying hello to a stranger, even though they are in the same room, is felt on both sides, and the feelings of the audience – a room full of strangers- are drawn in to become a palpable element in the performance.
The telephone conversations with her Mum are all conducted with our hearing only one side of the dialogue – but this is so well scripted, we can all fill in the blanks for ourselves, and imagine the voice of our own mothers giving us advice from a distance.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the performance is when Jenkins sends up supermarkets and job interviews, with brilliant ‘voiceover’ sound dialogues. The inhuman and fake language used in both situations is taken to extreme which echo the best of Monty Python, with the names of the stores and their loyalty cards being parodied to the extreme with a pitch-perfect ‘friendly’ female voice.
‘Thank you for shopping with Money Spunk‘ ‘Would you like to become a friend?‘ ‘Unexpected item in bagging area‘ – all these phrases illuminate the cynical fakery that underpins shopping, and the physical repetitive actions and increasing mechanical, forced smiles show how the humanity and spontaneity of the girl is gradually sapped by the process of inane questioning at job interviews.
This is not conventional theatre, but the story it tells is immediately obvious, and the nuance and quiet tragedy of loneliness in a crowded city is made crystal clear. The direction is accomplished and the movement always used to effectively convey Marie’s emotion, and the spot-on accuracy of the sound effects mean you will never again approach a supermarket self-checkout in the same way.
The use of lemons as a prop is endearing and spectacular, especially when the cascade of the fruits onstage becomes something that fills the nostrils of the audience. And the invisible and inaudible character of the mother is perfectly drawn. The spiral of madness as she invents and names imaginary friends in the audience is starkly believable, and the sparse set works just as well as a supermarket and a bedroom, with the lighting used to great effect with second-perfect changes to alter the mood and the setting as the story progresses. This is slick, skilled and professional staging.
Quirky, accomplished, moving and human, this is a delightful, very surreal but in the end uplifting performance. As for many shows at the Fringe, the audience was small, however, this deserves to be a huge success and be enjoyed by full houses.
A final note about the venue – this is slightly off the beaten track, but is a perfect small theatre space, and it’s worth finding your way to the bottom of the Royal Mile to enjoy this lovely show.