As increasing numbers of human beings around the globe choose to live in cities, the question of how connected human beings really are in such environments is worth pondering. ‘Modern’ literature has been interested in this phenomenon and as we’re connected in so many ways by technology, some people find it engenders alienation in the long run. In RED Company’s The Sea, alienation and loneliness are explored through the character of ‘A’, played by Sarah Dean.
Written and directed by Thomas Froy, The Sea is split into halves, taking different approaches to the same conundrum. Accompanied by pre-recorded footage of Hackney and other locations, ‘A’ addresses the audience. Talking matter-of-factly about her life, ‘A’ describes her interaction with people and what she does/doesn’t ‘respond’ to. She finds ‘small talk’ irksome – at best it’s a form of procrastination and ‘serves no purpose’. While it could be interpreted initially that ‘A’ doesn’t crave or appreciate human contact, she spends a lot of her free-time observing other people – at the theatre, at football matches or when she goes for her walks in the evening. She finds this preferential to the cinema or television.
The way the first half is written, ‘A’s responses could be interpreted any number of ways – and all would be equally valid. While there’s nothing wrong with avoiding inane conversations, a lack of understanding of the intricacies of social interaction could be classified as falling within the autistic end of the spectrum. However, ‘A’s responses could also be said to stem from a disconnection from modern life, akin to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Then again, if one was – hypothetically speaking – beret of human contact and never understood instinctively why people behave the way they do, they would be like Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘Valentine Michael Smith’ in Stranger In A Strange Land. As for ‘A’s trouble sleeping and her running excursions, these are classic signs of depression, and the physical fatigue from running the best way of dealing with insomnia.
In the second half, ‘A’s world is opened up and in some ways what she encounters dovetails into the experiences of most people. Dealing with automated menus from her phone provider, many will recognise the irony that many communication companies do their damnedest to keep actual interaction with their customers to a minimum. It’s also the one time that ‘A’ is audibly exasperated with anyone.
Using her love of running as a way to meet other people, she gets to know another woman (‘B’) in a running club. From what’s said, ‘B’ doesn’t remember ‘A’ when she first joined (not ‘interesting’ enough?), but they eventually strike up a friendship and arrange to run at Hackney Marshes. ‘A’ is uncharacteristically late as the app she recently downloaded to help her save time travelling doesn’t do its job. Even with their arrangement written down in ‘black and white’, there is a different ‘perception’ of what time they should meet up. Lateness and ‘misunderstandings’ continue when they next arrange to meet up, though on this occasion the fault is unequivocably ‘B’s fault. She however, adds insult to injury by leaving more or less straightaway to meet someone else…
In a world that’s more reliant than ever on smartphones and up-to-date information, it’s amazing, as this play shows, how people are still susceptible to miscommunication and ‘obstacles’ to spending time together. In today’s ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ culture, arrangements are rarely set in stone, prone to changes at the last minute and ‘courtesy’ is a relative thing. Apologetic conversations occur which are meant to smooth over anger or frustration that the other party may be feeling, but at the end of the day the other person’s time and company isn’t valued or respected. This being the case, why is it surprising that loneliness and disconnection occurs in cities..?
© Michael Davis 2018
The Sea ran at Camden People’s Theatre on 1st-3rd March.