I will start by stating that one woman (or man) plays are one of my all-time favourite genres of theatre. They are often the most intimate or revealing pieces. And if done well can also be some of the most affecting.
Claustrophilia, happily for me, lives up to my excitable expectations and is perfectly placed at the Vault festival at Waterloo. We are under train tracks, beneath a vast arched ceiling with water drips down the already slimy walls. It is quite some venue and Claustrophilia sits seamlessly within it.
Claustrophilia is a one-woman play that seems to encompass the feelings of loneliness and isolation. Alice, played by recent LAMDA graduate Eleanor Crosswell, tells us in sporadic intervals about her experience of being kidnapped as a child.
The story is purposely all broken up. Alice is unable to stay on one trail of thought for long forcing us to piece together the tragic events of her childhood. The play is a mash up of honesty. We are presented with an unfinished story from an unedited host. The result being that we focus not on Alice’s background or how she came to be in this state, but to focus instead on the state itself. This young girl is now not a kidnap victim, nor is she an abuse victim, and all her horrors are in the past. So, what does she do now?
Crosswell plays Alice with a nonchalance of honesty. It is such a challenge, for any actor, to undertake a one woman show but Crosswell deals with it like a true professional. Her casual storytelling manner is well suited to the piece and her natural, detailed mannerisms are essential for convincing the audience that we are watching a real person. Without this, we simply wouldn’t have been able to engage. She holds our attention throughout, which is by no means an easy feat. Crosswell is clearly an adaptable actress because when an audience member reacts unexpectedly to what I imagine is a planned question, Crosswell quickly moves on without a flinch of discomfit or panic.
Rebecca Gwyther directs this challenging piece. Gwyther, who was first drawn to play because of the writer’s insight into unusual observations, has clearly been generous and trusting with her actor’s delivery. Or at least, that is how it comes across. The direction of movement is simply and seemingly not prescribed. The overall thought processes throughout however are clear, distinctive, and bold.
As I sit looking though the program, I see a surprisingly small team of creatives. It would seem that only four women make up the entire production all the way from writing to stage managing. Although I am told that this piece is still a work in progress, it is formed well. Naomi Westerman’s writing is certainly compelling and curious enough to constitute a great piece of theatre. It has undoubtedly intrigued me and most definitely has not ruined my love of one woman plays, thank goodness.
Claustrophilia played at the Vaults, Waterloo until 18 February. For more information about the production company, see here.