Review by Esmee West-Agboola
Alex McSweeney’s Distance playing at The Park Theatre displays an innovative representation of the experience of depression, but with a slightly wandering narrative.
Distance is a fitting title for this play as we learn quickly that Steven (Adam Burton) has become a spectator of his own life, rather than a person really living it. The piece appears to convey the distance that separates his state of mind from his relationships, emotions and overall presence in his existence. Throughout, this separation is brought to the forefront of our reception in a variety of sophisticated ways.
The story itself starts on a train where Steven and Alan (Abdul Salis) stumble upon each other on the way to a job interview. During the journey, Steven reveals that he and his wife Sonja (Lindsay Fraser) have recently divorced. This provokes the beginning of our exploration into Steven’s ways of thinking.
Literal distance, tactfully paired with the use of set, draws our attention to Steven’s isolation. Often, at certain moments during his scenes with Alan, the characters gradually move further and further away from each other while the scene remains intact. This appears to indicate the points at which Steven’s mind wanders elsewhere and he loses that sense of being which is often discussed when talking about depression. The use of movable frames also heightens this by physically intersecting the space between characters and framing the scene from Steven’s perspective. This, appearing to project where he feels mentally separated from interaction and consequently becomes a spectator.
In his writing, Alex McSweeney beautifully depicts the weight of words and sounds for Steven, and more broadly, starts to articulate how they can become triggers that manifest into everyday life. For example, The Duke (Ricard Corgan) knocks on his guitar and, moments later, we witness his memory of Folami (Doreene Blackstock) , a religious missionary, knocking on his door to offer guidance. Similarly, Steven often coexists in two scenes which occur simultaneously, again indicating the effect of triggers.
However, while the innovative symbolism has been carefully and beautifully embedded in the production, I couldn’t help but feel that the story loses its way. There didn’t seem to be a moment where we really got a sense of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of Steven’s state of mind; only of the patterns in his behaviour. In this sense, it seemed a static narrative. This was a shame, as the piece is successful in so many other ways and valuable in contributing to our understanding of mental illness.
Distance is on until 29 September https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/distance