REVIEW | I Wish I Was Lonely

Walker and Thorpe. Picture: Toni Wilkinson

I Wish I Was Lonely ★★★
State Theatre Centre Rehearsal Room | Review by David Zampatti

Whether you’re amazed by the sea of pedestrians glued to their tiny screens as they walk down a street in Hong Kong, or find yourself fuming at an intersection in Perth as the person in the car ahead of you texts away, oblivious to the green light they’re wasting, there’s no escaping the mobile phone.

It’s hard to believe that they took hold only 20 years or so ago, and that smart phones have been with us for less than a decade, such is their impact on our lives.

In their I Wish I Was Lonely, the British writers and performers Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe ask us to contemplate that impact, and the way our human interactions have been channelled and changed by them.

So when 40 of us go into a rehearsal room at the State Theatre Centre we aren’t asked to turn our phones off. Quite the contrary. Over the next hour we’ll be texting each other, going to each other’s voicemails and, on a couple of occasions, fielding calls and messages from the real world, while Walker and Thorpe lead us through exercises about communication, connectivity and those phones.

The questions they pose are hardly new, or startlingly original. Does all this technology bring us closer together, or keep us apart? Do we know each other, or ourselves, better or worse because of it? Do we really want to be constantly together or, underneath it all, do we long to be alone?

The games Walker and Thorpe have us play, though, are only a framing device around which deliver they a stream of poetic stories and ruminations about our phone-dominated lives. They are sometimes witty, sometimes searching, sometimes wrenching.

When Walker describes her miscarriage to her partner over the phone as it is happening, the silence that descends speaks volumes. We may be moved by the tragedy but it’s how she is responding to it that gives us pause.

Interestingly, I Wish I Was Lonely is a very low-tech take on its high-tech subject and sometimes its casual, relaxed format lacks momentum. Some of the games we play — an accelerating round of Chinese whispers is a case in point — don’t easily connect to the point of the piece.

But when we sat around our phones as they lay in a circle in the centre of the room, we were like Stanley Kubrick’s ape-men clustered around that very iPhone-like monolith in 2001. And the point was inescapable.

I Wish I Was Lonely runs until February 28.