In many ways, Standing too Close on Our Own in the Dark takes gig theatre to its inevitable conclusion. Matthew Collins’ staging sets it overtly in the gig mode. The three performers are stationed around mics and musical instruments, looking more like a band than the assembled cast of a play. While the performance is theatrical, it has a feel of the open mic night, with trailing wires and pocket-sized notebooks to dress this stripped-down set.
This entirely suits the show’s form. It shifts from monologue to spoken word to song, each form telling what is framed as a universal story. Boy meets girl, boy has massive issues with depression and anxiety – it’s a surprisingly familiar tale in university environments. I certainly recognised it. Jake Marsden’s writing has captured something essential, the desire to rely on another person to rescue you from your own head. The narrative displays how destructive that can be, how unrelenting and how, ultimately, forgiving relationships based on this mode can be.
Jack Chamberlain’s performance is subtle, comedic and heart-wrenching. He effortlessly switches tone and form, entirely occupying the anxious and melancholy character of the story. Just as natural reading poetry as delivering monologue, he easily inhabits the narrative. Each note of storytelling is framed by Marsden’s songs, adding a deeper emotional dimension to the piece.
The issue with the form, however, is that we are being told the story rather than experiencing it with the characters. The show does what it sets out to do – the performances are convincing and the writing compelling – but it fails to catch my heart. There is something missing, perhaps the fabled girl whom our protagonist falls for.
That said, Marsden’s writing forms a beautiful snapshot of how men, particularly, use love to distract themselves from their own mental health. It’s a powerful story and the simplicity of its form does cut to the heart of the issue without feeling like a play wholly about mental health. Standing too Close on Our Own in the Dark allows us to access the young man behind the statistics, the love story in the cold beer garden.
All in all, what Just Club is doing here is incredibly interesting. While the show isn’t perfect, it displays a lot of promise. It’s a company to watch and a writer who isn’t afraid to use the ordinary to grapple with human struggle. That is valuable and interesting and, for anyone interested in the future of theatre, a very engaging watch.
Standing too Close on Our Own in the Dark played the Hull Truck Theatre until 13 July. For more information, see the Hull Truck Theatre website.