Old Fitz Theatre, March 11
“I think, therefore I am” was all very well for Rene Descartes, but what if your thinking is just a jumble of undigested infotainment scraps from the internet? Even if you manage an occasional clear thought, how can you possibly define your identity and make that identity tangible? These are the crises confronting poor Esther in Collapsible (2019), a 70-minute whirlwind of a play by Irish writer Margaret Perry.
Esther, 20ish, has just lost her high-flying job, and to find another, she must be able to answer questions about herself – answers that become ever more elusive. Online quizzes variously assure her she’s an introvert and an extrovert, a cupcake person and a martini person, and that were she a US President she’d be Nixon – or maybe Obama. She’s also seen a video of an early LSD experiment in which the woman who’s the guineapig tells the doctor, “There is no me. There is no you.” Esther feels like that – or, perhaps, more like a chair: a collapsible model.
Janet Anderson plays Esther and, as the play demands, several other roles, the bewildered protagonist variously interacting with her sister, father, ex-girlfriend and potential employers. Anderson flits between characters with ease, her Essie often wearing a wide-eyed expression that melds wonder and horror.
Directors Zoe Hollyoak and Morgan Moroney and their collaborators have crafted an elaborate production, thanks to a decision to incorporate live cinema and motion-capture technology, so that, for instance, Anderson might be videoed and projected in extreme close-up, while playing another character. Although the audiovisual technology cinema is not a stipulation of the play, it certainly thickens the experience, even as it marginally dilutes our focus on Perry’s often highly amusing text. Derek, Essie’s sister’s boyfriend, for instance, nods in time to electronic dance music “like he’s politely agreeing with himself”, and later he “raises his empty glass to his lips and takes a sip full of air”.
In conjunction with Daniel Herten’s creepy score, Moroney’s lighting and Hayden Relf’s truly brilliant set – essentially an office waiting room, complete with lift, but one that’s ingeniously malleable – the videoing compounds the hallucinogenic disorientation of Esther’s mind. This even has her start to think she’s made of stones; that she rattles slightly when she walks. Many of us have some inkling of how she feels.
Until April 1.