The crowd is seated in the intimate space of La Boheme. The door is shut, the lights are still up and the background music is still playing as Carol Young quietly slips into the piano seat and starts repeating a quiet phrase on the piano, allowing the house music to fade and the audience to settle.
On stage is a collection of book cases filled with various objects and boxes. A large trunk sits in the middle of the floor. A hat stand is to the side. Milk crates and a plank of wood form a bench.
Jamie Jewell stumbles in, a barefoot hobo in trench coat, clutching a brown bag. He seems scared of the world outside. His first song introduces the audience to the themes of the show, loneliness, heartache, and chance. It’s a wonderful rendition of a Queen song and, as with the whole show, Jewell’s voice is powerful enough to fill the room without additional amplification. As the opening piece continues the audience starts to get a sense of why the boxes and objects are scattered around the set. Nothing is of great monetary value but things are saved for a reason. Despite the despair of loneliness, there is joy in little things like a flower in a can and other objects that get re-discovered.
The songs, a collection of popular music, musical theatre and cabaret standards, paint the picture of wishing for not only a happier world, a desire for a life with love, and hope for better times, but regret, loneliness, despair. Jewell can move from powerful, loud and manic to soft, sweet and heartfeltwhilst still ensuring the back of the room catches every word and emotion. Whilst other shows manipulate the lyrics, Jewell keeps the original lyrics but changes the key or the tempo to give it a different emotion and meaning.
Without the need for a microphone, Jewell can move freely around the room. La Boheme is the perfect space as it allows the performer to move in amongst the audience whilst still letting the audience feel like you are in this person’s home.
About halfway in, the reason for the selection of a paper shape on entering the show becomes a little more apparent, but then gets put to the side as Jewell continues to work through his boxes, discovering objects that at first don’t make sense. Some of the objects were obscured by other props but the audience were so intrigued that the moments of not knowingand leaning out of their seats, were worth it as they eventually became apparent. Actions low to the ground were obvious enough, even if not fully visible, and the levels to the stage and set allowed some action to occur at higher levels so that the whole audience could see finer details.
Whilst the story isn’t linear, the audience can slowly piece together and make inferences as to the causes of the pain as more objects are revealed and we see Jewell’s interaction with them; childhood toys, showing joyous memories, photographs showing pain, exasperation with a deck of cards or a roll of the dice hinting at a gambling issue, or a frustration at the hand fate has dealt him. The glass bottles grabbed from around the stage to sneak in a quick swig allude to a potential issue with alcohol.
Jewell draws his audience in beautifully. It’s a heart wrenching piece that people can connect to. Whilst they may not have been to the same depths of despair, people relate to lost love, being dealt a bad hand by life, and the desire to just get away from it all and find somewhere better. Jewell tells his story without being to confronting or being too introspective.
The only issue I had with the night was not with the performance or the space but members of the audience. The Lonely Man is a deeply moving theatrical cabaret piece but the mood was disrupted by talking at the back of the room that persisted, and a latecomers mobile phone going off. This was definitely not a piece for audience verbal participation. As a plea to anybody going to see any performance art, please respect the performers and your fellow patrons and turn phones off and refrain from speaking for the 1 hour that you, and others, are paying to see someone else perform.
But aside from that issue, which hopefully will be a one off, The Lonely Man is a very well written and executed cabaret performance that touches the soul.
Reviewed by Jade Kops, special guest Fringe Critic, Glam Adelaide
Venue: La Boheme, 36 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm, Thurs 23 & Tues 28 Feb, 10pm, Tues 13th Mar 2012
Tickets: $20 to $27
Duration: 60 min
Bookings: Fringetix 1300-FRINGE (1300-374643), their outlets or online