Royal Exchange, Manchester
11th May 2017
Look – no hands! From this unlikely premise writer Alan Harris draws us in to the story of two lonely people discovering one another through telephone sex line chat.
Jimmy works in a drive-through doughnut restaurant and Kitty is a voice at the end of an adult chatline. Beneath the superficial novelty these are the jobs of our age – zero hours, low paid, casual and temporary. Jimmy fantasizes about bringing planes in to land while processing the orders at the drive-through. Kitty indulges her callers in a make-believe world while planning a more useful future as a psychologist. Jimmy is one of those callers and within the minimum call period of nine minutes their talks are increasingly less about sex and more about themselves. Eventually they meet up face to face.
Their lives are rooted in a Newport that is recognisably hum-drum, a small town world of retail parks, job centres and single bedrooms. People are lonely, relationships are fractured or fragile. Jimmy may still live with his mother but they don’t really speak, and he never sees his daughter Mallory. Kitty lives awkwardly with her landlord Stevo. Harris skillfully evokes something desperately real but also layers on top a quirky charm – the landlord with his collection of dolls, Kitty’s attraction to the well-dressed high stakes world of snooker and the appearance of two topiary squirrels.
When Jimmy loses his job, he also starts to shed pieces of himself – first his hands vanish and then his left buttock, and then more. Limbs don’t drop off they’re just erased from sight – leaving an increasingly invisible man. Kitty thinks reconnecting with his daughter will help Jimmy. Meanwhile, she has her own worries as the relationship with her landlord becomes complicated and she ponders a life as an escort to fund her studies.
Soon, Jimmy is nothing more than two big toes. Is his disappearance real or metaphorical? Is his ailment physical or mental? It’s never spelt out. What is, is that we only have a limited time – our lives are assigned an amount of light and once it burns out that’s it.
Director Liz Stevenson and designer Fly Davis keep things effectively simple. The stage is a small restricted space suspended from four big ropes – like a stationary swing with no solid foundation beneath the characters’ feet. There are no props, and the staging leaves Alexandria Riley and Rhodri Meilir exposed to our gaze throughout. As Kitty and Jimmy they carry the play between them with a disarming ease and quiet skill. They draw us in close to the two main characters, as well as creating the awkward crowd of people who inhabit their lives and keeping things moving along as narrators.
The dialogue is rich with humour and allusion. When the night draws in the sky is “as black as a hedge fund manager’s heart”. On occasions the references fall flat (do we need a mention of Newport’s very own Goldie Looking Chain?) but these moments of indulgence are rare.
Alan Harris has created something with hidden depths and the production and acting share the script’s lightness of touch. The characters are never patronised or ridiculed, their unfulfilled lives are picked over with care. As the gentle humour gradually recedes to expose Kitty and Jimmy’s fragile situations it is a genuinely affecting experience.