Review: Getting Close, Scenes for Survival, National Theatre of Scotland

One of the hardest struggles of lockdown has been staying connected to those you love or care about. Kathy McKean’s short monologue expresses longing for the tenderness and intimacy prohibited by isolation and social distancing. While Nicole Cooper’s performance as the lonely woman is gently compelling and uncomplicated, the piece doesn’t uncover a deeper resonance to the sorrow on its surface.

The piece intercuts shots of the woman gazing out of windows with images of a man’s portrait. We gradually learn the portrait’s significance as her voice-over recalls fragmentary memories of a past relationship, interspersed between observations of life in lockdown Glasgow. Past romance jostles against enforced isolation, as reminiscing about lost love is essentially the only human connection she has. The piece considers the importance of intimacy to maintain human bonds and whether they can survive without it.

Cooper combines a sense of frustration and sorrow, expressing the pain of lost love and exasperation of isolation. The shots of the woman looking out of windows may be a slightly trite lockdown image, but they reinforce the physical and emotional distance she experiences. Scott Twynholm’s plaintive piano music nicely enriches the melancholic mood and steady cadence of Cooper’s vocal rhythm, developing a vivid impression of the anguish of loneliness the character and many others have felt.

Although the piece richly communicates this pain and emotion, its scope is limited to this brief glimpse into personal melancholy. The monologue is a fast-paced stream of particular memories: we hear a burst of events and experiences shared by the couple, but are left to piece it all together and infer the significance. At the end of the six minutes, the abiding impression is merely that she misses her past lover, while the more interesting ideas about touch and physical contact being fundamental human communication are left oblique.

Nicholas Bone’s direction emphasises the pace of her observations with cuts alternating between the woman and the portrait. This illustrates her desperation and the destabilising experience of lockdown, but sometimes clashes with the tenderness of Cooper’s performance and the mellow atmosphere.

A shift comes when we cut from her gazing out of windows to looking directly into the camera. It brings direct address, drawing us in. We see her face and tears in her eyes; there’s visible raw emotion, but the monologue then ends before the expectation of exposure can be fulfilled. The piece’s clarity is ultimately inhibited by the short form which offers only brief access to a complex experience of heightened loneliness. It left me wanting to be pulled in further; I didn’t get close enough.

Getting Close is now streaming for free online. For more information, go to the National Theatre of Scotland website.