Review: Mind the gaps

by Kate Wyver

I love the idea of seeing the awkwardness of daily interactions with strangers. In Departures I loved the ticket office attendant’s final rant about everything that is shit about life. I loved that the man in the suit wanted to learn to play the oboe. I loved that the first five minutes are wonderfully subtle with the nuances of everyday embarrassments, encounters and tiny gestures.

But I think it was when the guy in the suit jumped over the bench and started doing that hand-out-to-the-audience move that suggests clicking and jazz hands are about to happen, or maybe when they chucked the baby across the stage, or it might have been where they all literally started clicking and doing jazz hands- it was somewhere in there that I got a bit lost.

In a similar style to Alecky Blythe’s London Road, Departures is a cross between speech and spoken song, in a cycle of 10 monologues. It is when their songs feel most like speech that there is a little bit of magic. But it is when their inner thoughts leap from naturalistic to just a bit cheesy, with them each saying exactly what they want, making all subtlety jump on the next train and drive away. There is no cohesion in style, with the delicate awkwardness incongruously jumping to confessions decorated with musical theatre dance moves. Unfortunately the structural repetition of monologues interlaced by moments of interaction with everyone else on the station become predictable, and the countdowns don’t help to move the pace along.

There were two monologues in particular that made me uncomfortable. The first was about a man trying to compliment a woman without seeming like a creep, the second about a man who had moved to England from Bucharest. The former felt like mansplaining, when everyone jumps up on Twitter to insist that it’s #notallmen. It almost takes a new form of sexism, not letting the girl he’s talking at have a word, and just telling her that he understands how she feels when she is objectified by a man. I know he means well, but that is not the way to show respect and it just came across as incredibly patronising. I get what the second monologue about our society’s inherent racism was trying to say – that we judge automatically – but actually it just felt a little bit too simplistic, and therefore slightly blunt, and the lack of dimension in the characters made all their monologues a bit preachy. I feel like I was being taught how to be a good person, with very strict lesson plans. While Departures dances the line between sensitive and offensive, I still can’t work out which side it falls on.

I know it tried so hard to show the nuances of every human life and desperately wanted to portray everyone as struggling just a little bit, but it suggested that all of these problems would be solved by talking to the fit guy next to you at the station WHO HAS A WIFE!!!!! (HOW WAS THIS NOT MADE A THING OF, HE WAS TOTALLY FLIRTING WITH HER AND IF THE OTHER GUY HADN’T STARTED PIROUETTING HE WOULD HAVE DEFINITELY HAVE MADE A MOVE).

There are, however, moments of beauty. Their voices are strong, with the girl with Bryony Parker's angelic voice being particularly impressive. Will Taylor is enchanting as the god-like Trevor the ticket office attendant. Illuminated in his office, his face is constantly active and wonderful to watch, his reactions glorious and his comic timing superb. It is lovely having the live orchestra behind the set, partly visible with the conductor looking slightly angelic with the rising smoke and backlights. The book is delicately put together with obvious skill. It’s just the lack of cohension that lets it down. With development I think this could be something special. Looking past the flaws, the community feel it creates is kind of wonderful.

Departures does sort of suggest that the world’s problems would be fixed by talking to each other, and yeah, that’s not altogether wrong. If there’s anywhere for people to learn the benefits of talking to strangers, it’s NSDF, but at the end of the show, someone made a very valid point. “I don’t want to be made to feel like a terrible person for not wanting to talk to people at train stations.”

It doesn’t quite hold together, but as something to develop, I think Departures is a collection of strong starting points.

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato