By Ash Cottrell
Last Friday night marked the end of an exceptionally arduous work week, with little reprieve. With the trauma of that in the rear-view mirror, I was content to be in a somewhat more relaxing environment, being lulled by the melody of the piano and the dreamlike nature of the haze machine.
Electric Loneliness, presented by Night Creatures at one of my favourite Melbourne theatre spaces, fortyfive downstairs, was part of the endlessly colourful, Midsumma Festival. The Festival is primarily known for its celebration of queer culture and brings to the stage an eclectic array of local and international acts. While I sincerely doubt there are any international acts on our shores this year, it was a great pleasure to enjoy some of the local ones.
I’ve always been a fan of a sixty-minute show, no interval. Electric loneliness delivered on the time economy front. It was short and incredibly sweet and while it took a good quarter of an hour to thoroughly get into, once I started to engage with the storytelling, I did grow quite fond of the two characters, The Lonely Lady and The Lonely Man, played with earnestness by Alexandra Aldrich and Joachim Coghlan. The singing was beautiful, and the performers had a knack for incorporating hit songs reimagined from the eighties, nineties, naughties and today. In my mind, pop music is always a solid, crowd-pleasing move.
Narratively speaking, the storytelling was good, not great. It did take a while to get going, but in saying that, by the third act, I was on the hook and left with a satisfying and beautifully played final moment. The costumes and set design, though kitsch and playful, were undoubtedly beautiful, with a carefully considered colour palette that was consistently played throughout.
Annoyingly and through no fault on the part of the performers themselves, it was difficult to be wholeheartedly absorbed into the world due to the seating arrangements at fortyfive. The best seats in the house were up the front, on circular cabaret-esque tables with wine and candles. I was uncomfortably and awkwardly moving in my seat up the back, conscious that my knees were brushing the ponytail of the girl in front of me. Going to the theatre is always an all-encapsulating experience, from the moment you take your seat, and it did get me wondering what was behind the seating plan choices. How I longed to be part of the circular table crew.
Rant aside, I did allow myself to be entertained by these crooners. They’re voices were beautiful, and the songs were pretty expertly chosen and incorporated. They were also accompanied by a talented pianist, Owen James, a constant presence in the storytelling.
I always find it intriguing after attending a show, reading how it is portrayed online. From the reviews and publicity I’ve read, Electric Loneliness was positioned as a cabaret with zeitgeist currency, exploring loneliness and isolation, themes that supposedly resonate with contemporary culture. While the characters were indeed lonely, I don’t think loneliness is unique to these times, rather, characteristic of the experience of being human. In a way, I think thematically, Electric Loneliness was far more about longing and desire than loneliness and isolation.
At its worst, Electric Loneliness was overwrought. At its best, it was sweet and heart-warming. I certainly left with a feeling of wellbeing and after the week I’d had, that’s saying something.
Image: Jack Dixon-Gunn