Astonishing attention to detail and a wildly talented team make Lonely Planet one of the most exciting fringe performances you can expect to see this year.
The UK premiere of award-winning Steven Dietz’s play Lonely Planet is described as ‘an endearing, absurdly comical and poignant friendship tale’. Written in 1993, the play explores the AIDS crisis in 1980’s USA through the lives of two friends who choose to deal with their rapidly collapsing world through virtually opposite means. Whilst the script is not faultless, astonishing attention to detail and a wildly talented team make for one of the most exciting fringe theatre experiences you can expect to see this year.
Alexander McMorran’s presentation of Jody, a forty-something agoraphobic, is impossibly heartbreaking. There’s a lightness of touch to the performance which give an enormous degree of humanity to the character. There is an undeniable sense we have all met someone like Jody, existing in the world from afar, which McMorran taps into with a beautifully controlled and understated performance that contrasts perfectly with his counterpart.
Aaron Vodovoz as Carl is a powerhouse of energy, rattling through some spectacularly difficult text with enormous panache and virtually faultless pacing. This is a fearless performance which, again, feels painfully recognisable. Hilarious and vulnerable, Ray speeds through life existing on a diet of fantasy, but, unlike Jody, faces reality of his situation by collecting the empty chairs left by those whose lives have been claimed by AIDS. It is perhaps the visualisation of Ionesco’s chairs which is the most powerful metaphor in the play: simple, quantifiable and visceral.
This is not the easiest script to deal with; whilst poetic realism powers some poignant and insightful moments, sometimes the script slips into the trope of using dialogue as a tool for philosophical speculation. Directed by former West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director Ian Brown with astonishing sensitivity and attention to detail, it is easy to entirely inhabit the characters’ world, whilst starkly poignant moments allow one to reflect on the broader context. It is a remarkable achievement dealing with a text that occasionally risks veering into whimsy.
The design team fully exploit what can be achieved in an intimate space; it is clear that lighting (Will Scarnell), sound (Peter West) and set and costume (Nik Corrall) have collaborated closely to maximise the intensity of this atmosphere. Again, attention to detail at all levels lifts the production to exceptional heights, allowing us to fully absorb the fearful claustrophobia of the environment.
There is no dearth of plays about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and Lonely Planet is far from the most ambitious you will find. However, it is a wonderfully sensitive and human piece that feels woefully relevant in 2017. Passing references to a policeman who fell victim to AIDS and had no attendees at his funeral; a man driven to distraction crashing his car into a street full of pedestrians stand out as startling connections from a past world of crisis to the present. With this production, the stars have aligned to create a truly special and utterly moving piece of theatre, that sheds light both on times gone by and how we live today.