Tonight at the VAULT Festival, we caught two one man shows: James Rowland’s romcom turned life lesson A Hundred Different Words For Love and Kane Power’s musical exploration of his mother’s bipolar disorder. Unlike many one man shows though, both manage to avoid veering into self-indulgence and created some shows that left serious food for thought.
A Hundred Different Words For Love by James Rowland
Dressed in an ill fitting suit, a too short tie and dark blue trainers, the hirsute James Rowland hardly looks the part for a romantic lead.
Rowland made waves with his debut solo show Team Viking about putting on a Viking Funeral for a friend who contracts an aggressive form of cancer, and reportedly had the power to move audience members to tears from a single line amidst the mostly comic piece. This doesn’t surprise me in the least, and although he moves away from mournful material towards matters of the heart, Rowland’s script hits hard at both the funnybone and the emotional core.
A Hundred Different Words For Love is set in the same fictional universe as Team Viking, and is first and foremost, a classic tale of boy meets girl, the boy being Rowland and the girl the culmination of all the dreamgirls the audience can possibly imagine. The romance is built up over a series of cute indie movie type meet cutes and Rowland’s easygoing, magnetic personality quickly charms the audience into rooting for the couple.
Rowland’s words strike at surprisingly truthful chords. From his description of a house party to determining the correct pause one should wait before replying “I love you”, there’s plenty of (fictional, as he reminds you) anecdotes that will stick to you long after you leave the theatre. At one point, Rowland uses a sewing metaphor to describe love as threads coming together, weaving intricately the intimacies shared between a couple, and conversely, the pain of it fraying, drawn out over months when it starts to go downhill, and it is terrifyingly accurate.
Yet, this story is much more than a theatrical version of (500) Days of Summer. Intercutting the buildup with jaunty piano pieces and wit, Rowland’s love story ends up set against the larger narrative of his best friend’s wedding. In the leadup to the wedding, Rowland introduces the audience to his best friend Sarah and her fiancee Emma, and the show makes the leap from being simply a cisgender heterosexual white male narrative to entering the territory of more universal ideas of love, whether it’s between friends, lovers (both homosexual and heterosexual) or family. None of it is ever explicitly framed as a life lesson, but Rowland manages to tastefully showcase all these loves in a single, watertight narrative that will have you laughing at one moment to nearly breaking down in tears the next.
A Hundred Different Words For Love is not so much a love story as a story about love, and putting all of it in perspective. It has all the makings of a gooId indie film and all the best possible things you can hope for in a fringe show: humour and heart, and a fantastic lead to bring it all together. I can’t wait to see what Rowland comes up with next, and urge you to see this show while you still can.
Mental by Kane Power
Theatre dealing with mental illness is in no short supply, but good theatre, very much so.
Kane Power admits that he’s no expert on the subject matter, and can only speak from personal experience growing up with seeing his mother suffer from it. Afflicted with bipolar disorder, Kim Power’s story is told through her son’s musically infused vignettes and narrative.
Power’s stage is littered with boxes of props, various instruments including a voice modifier and a large chart hung up at the back of the theatre, depicting two lines representing the way a normal person’s mood moves and the more extreme way a bipolar person does. In a sense, the clutter adds to the atmosphere of unease that Power creates with his electronic music and looping voices, instrumentals reminiscent of artists like Sigur Ros or Imogen Heap. There’s the sense that you’ve entered a surreal, otherworldly place, matching Power’s narration about his mother’s manic episodes and feels like she’s traveled to an extraterrestrial plane.
Power’s piece doesn’t really follow a set narrative or sequence, but really is a collection of memories about his mother. They’re often dark and disturbing, from his mother lying on the floor, eyes wide open after taking a fall, to her enraged, explosive reaction to being put in a home ‘not too far off from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. There’s rarely anything particularly light hearted about it, and there’s something disturbing about the way he plays voice clips of doctors’ reports of his mother, as well as her own angry voicemails. It’s a bombardment of information and jargon that overwhelms easily, and nicely replicates that feeling of terror one might overcome during an episode.
Eventually, Power (rather unsubtly) channels his mother with a shawl, and takes on her voice to speak to the audience about her concerns, giving us a ‘first person perspective’ of her condition, as opposed to that of a carer. Power succeeds at his argument for awareness and understanding with interesting conceits, such as the fact that a person is not defined solely by his or her condition, much as how a person is not ‘cancer’. By exploring the issue through his relationship with his mother, Power effectively adds a strong emotional dimension to it, crafting his mother as a fully formed character, yet with enough mystery to her to let audience members feel the same unbridgeable gulf between them. It’s a heavy but important performance, and Power has an aura to his movement that’s fascinating to watch, never pretentious, only honest.
Power’s premise might be dark, but there’s a very clear message attached to it: if one in four people will face mental illness at some point in their lives, then there’s a three in four chance of being a carer for one. Mental succeeds at explaining the condition in a creative and delicate form, and lends itself as a light in the dark for anyone who’s ever had a brush with mental illness and is definitely one of the more sombre, but affective pieces during the festival.