It has often been said in jest: “You’re 18 [or any other age] now. It’s all downhill from here…” As soon as we are old enough to grasp the concept of time, great emphasis is placed on milestones and what’s expected of us in each decade. It’s a way of thinking we’ve all assimilated, whether we like to think we’re exempt from the ‘expectations’ of others or not. Sometimes though, it’s not the ‘goals’ that society sets for us that are the most burdensome, but those we’ve placed on ourselves…
Written and performed by Haley McGee, Age is a Feeling examines the ‘butterfly effect’ of the many people and circumstances that contribute to our state of mind as we get older – the most impactful of life’s lessons being those which are sudden and least expected.
At three junctures in the show, McGee lets the audience choose from a selection of cards that dictate how certain events overtly or in passing affect the narrative. While the events chosen (or not) may seem random, there is a ‘logic’ to their presence or omission that becomes apparent when watching Age is a Feeling. How McGee keeps track in her head all the temporal possibilities is mind-boggling, and what’s more amazing is nothing that’s said feels like something learnt by rote. It all feels organic and ‘spontaneous’.
Most people are clued up about self-help books, psychology to some degree and articles about how to improve one’s life. McGee uses this general knowledge to comic effect to point out all the ways – despite knowing this info – we as human beings ‘fall short’ time and time again. With this in mind, how does everyone successfully navigate the transition to ‘responsible adulthood’?
This segues smoothly into one of the things McGee acutely observes – how despite our best intentions, the decision to live healthily all of the time is not sustainable. The way the show’s structured, the audience picks up on the echoes of the past, such as the panaceaic mantra of “drink more water, eat more veg, take more exercise”. This innocuous statement that takes on a humorous undertone all of its own.
The relationship with each of the parents and siblings are also explored in the show – how they evolve over time and subliminally, a barometer by which to gauge “McGee’s” circumstances and “success” as an adult. Female relationships in particular take centre stage in Age is a Feeling, which are complicated for one reason or other.
As a woman, we hear from McGee how a best female friend can be life-affirming, and without saying so directly, potentially a more important figure in one’s life than a short or long-term romantic partner. Conversely, when circumstances sour such a connection, the cessation of such an intense relationship is akin to ‘grieving’, mourning for a part of yourself that will be forever lost… McGee’s also brings to light the more ambivalent ‘frenemies’ relationships, where envy of the other person’s ‘superior’, ‘got it together’ life plays a part in keeping them at arm’s length – most of the time…
But while ‘death’ and ‘the end of things’ are broached in various ways in the show, the pursuit of parenthood is also raised – how priorities change over time and what if natural conception isn’t ‘on the cards’. In any case, the road to ‘second childhood’ awaits us all, as we have to wrestle with and adapt to what our bodies can or cannot do over time…
As I was leaving the theatre, I could hear behind me other people discussing what they liked about the show. One of the things they brought up was McGee’s insights into all the stages of womanhood. They opined the ‘early years’ referenced could be based on McGee’s own life, but what about the other ‘unsaid’ things that happens to women who are older (and arguably outside McGee’s own life experience)? McGee’s insightfulness remind me of another playwright I respect, Conor McPherson, who also has a preternatural gift for being able to write about characters of all ages with authenticity. While McGee is able to mine the comic value of the astute observations, they aren’t any less valid or earnest. This is the magic of theatre: feeling a connection between the artist on stage and the audience, using fictions to tell universal truths.
“No one knows everything about you – not even you.”
© Michael Davis 2023
Age is a Feeling runs at Soho Theatre from Tuesday 14th February to Saturday 11th March (3.00pm, 7.15pm).