In three short plays performed as monologues by Kate O'Flynn, writer Alistair McDowall explores authenticity, the inner vs outer self.
Northleigh, 1940, the first play, starts explosively with the poetic story of mythical creatures. But it's all in the head of a woman who escapes into books as often as possible.
But they aren't the sort of books a woman 'should' be reading, so she hides them. Later she has a conversation with her father in their Morrison shelter; it is ordinary, domestic and mundane.
Which is the authentic self, and what is the role of society in shaping or hindering that?
In Stereo, the second play, ordinariness again collides with less ordinary, often in an amusing way. Inner thoughts are observations and descriptions, and the self is divided, appearing in different parts of a house:
"I hear myself moving around downstairs I was keeping out of my way"
Is the voice the house? Perhaps. Just as the self has divided, so do the voices. It becomes a cacophony of inner monologues with nothing distinguishable. Which did beg the question, what was the point other than to create a noise of dialogue?
Relief (it was a relief) comes when the play returns to a solo voice again, this time the wall in the bedroom observing the chain of occupants, the sleep, the sex, the children made and grown until it's derelict.
All Of It, the final play, is a cradle-to-grave inner monologue from learning new words as a baby and repeating them and fearful thoughts that resonate long into adulthood.
There are the milestone events: Going to school, first kiss, first sex, first boyfriend, university, job, marriage, kids, death in the family, divorce, remarriage, kids growing up, marrying...until the ultimate end.
But interwoven are the mundane parts of life, such as the endless repetition of driving to and from work. Which is the more real?
Again it is delivered with a matter-of-fact tone; the ordinary made extraordinary or the extraordinary made ordinary.
All three plays were written for Kate O'Flynn, and she demonstrates a subtle dexterity of performance, invoking meaning and sometimes humour with the slightest inflection in tone. Her performance is mesmerising.
Alistair McDowall is undoubtedly a skilled and inventive writer, capturing the power of words and conveying ideas by less conventional styles of 'playwriting'. (He describes these as poems.)
Saying that not all of it gains purchase, some of it feels like writer and performer are in a world separated from the audience. Is that the overarching point?
Is it style over substance? Occasionally but when it lands, that style punches a good weight.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half.
All Of It, Royal Court
Written by Alistair McDowall
Performed by Kate O'Flynn
Directed by Vicky Featherstone & Sam Pritchard
Booking until 17 June; for more information and to buy tickets, head to the Royal Court website.
Re-Member Me, Hampstead Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 24 June
The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 July
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 June, it then transfers to the Savoy Theatre for 5 weeks.