Jenna Watt’s delicate one-woman show kicked off Mayfest for me, offering up its bittersweet mix of hope and hate in a delightfully unselfconscious manner. Essentially, Flâneurs tells us the story of her friend Jeremy, who was the victim of a vicious assault. Except it’s so much more than that: it’s a musing on what it means to be safe, what it means to survive, and what it means to be home.
Watt is a masterful storyteller – she has to be, given that the show is simply her on-stage, joined occasionally by a giraffe to represent Jeremy. The show begins with a pleasingly whimsical journey through Edinburgh, punctuated by anecdotes and maps, as Watt shows us (in Bristol) around her home city. It’s beautifully done with an overhead projector and a lot of conviction, meaning that although some of the material about home and recognition feels a little contrived, we’ve invested enough in Watt’s story not to care.
This isn’t just Watt’s story, or Jeremy’s story, though. By making us see how random the attack on Jeremy was, and by interspersing her narrative with a policeman’s take on street violence, Watt invites us to go to a dark place where we are not safe. She invites us to remember every dark walk home, or every shock of reading about a violent act in a newspaper and realising it was local to us. She encourages us to think about whether we could defend ourselves, and whether we would step in to help someone else. It’s not preachy, though. Watt is an engaging and entertaining presence who keeps enough self-mockery in the piece to stop the occasional moralising being annoying.
At its heart, Flâneurs is a love letter to Edinburgh, and to cities that make people feel at home everywhere. Watt urges us to reclaim our sense of safety, to feel secure and to enjoy our cities and our homes once again. She does not shy away from the violence in the world: “I’m afraid of being punched” – who isn’t? The parts where we hear Jeremy’s voice describing how his world shrank after his assault are particularly affecting – this is a piece that makes you think.
Ultimately, though, it is celebratory. It’s a piece about the choices we make, and about survival. Aided by just a few props and her own body, Watt raises some interesting points about victims and perpetrators, about “them” and “us”, and about what we want from our environments. Well worth seeing.
Flâneurs is playing at The Brewery in Bristol as part of Mayfest until 18 May. For more information see the Mayfest website.