Unsure whether to be a play, a set of monologues and duologues or a kind of prosaic poem, Oh the Humanity and other Good Intentions nevertheless does exactly what it says on the tin: it takes one big sigh, lamenting with that half-knowing smile, the ways of humanity and all its most bewildered yet honest intentions. Consisting of five short works by acclaimed writer Will Eno, once dubbed by Charles Isherwood of the New York Times as “a Samuel Beckett of the Jon Stewart generation”, Oh the Humanity intrudes quietly yet forcibly into the quiet sense of self of every audience member.
Yet this is no Waiting for Godot of the technological age. Here, the absurdism is tempered with the utmost realism, the futile completely soaked in the hopeful. Through horrifyingly insightful writing and astonishingly sensitive acting, Oh the Humanity becomes one of the most understatedly invasive productions I have seen, that leaves you both comforted and refreshed yet as existentially confused as ever before.
This five part production, directed by Northern Stage’s chief executive Erica Whyman, meets characters both public and private, old and young and familiar and remote. These are mostly sane characters that are painfully aware of having lost their way, playing with those silly questions that crop up at the ungodly hours of the morning or at the most insignificant and huge moments of life: what do they want, where are they going and who are they?
Each character is essentially under a spotlight or the glare of a camera lens, which is little by little turned upon the audience. “The Bully Composition” provides the apex of this self-reflexive theatre which sees the tripod angled and the shutter clicked to capture us in our ordinary human posture, cross-legged open-mouthed attentive audience members watching nothing more than a pretend play.
Yet, this atmosphere of vulnerable humanity is projected not just from the fascinating script of Eno, but is perfectly matched with top-notch performances from Tony Bell, Lucy Ellison and John Kirk. Ellison, in particular, who superhumanly manages to star in four out of the five scenes, has a piercing openness with the audience that makes her once both intimately connected with us and yet intriguingly unique and distant.
Oh, the Humanity is a decidedly singular production that has that rare theatrical gift of perfect balance in all areas. It adeptly manages contradictions in style, script and intentions. And it is that understanding of balance that makes it the most transparently human.
Oh the Humanity is at Northern Stage @ St Stephen’s until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.