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TIME: Beinghuman Ltd / Gaynor O’Flynn

Oh dear. It’s different, I’ll give it that, being a show that attempts to overcome a common shortcoming of single-performer productions: that of only providing the narrator’s own perspective on things. Gaynor O’Flynn’s nameless character complains of being increasingly invisible with the passage of time – though, for her, that process ironically begins with being more noticed. The example given was that suddenly, for the first time, she was deemed old enough to be offered a seat on a crowded train. Drawing the audience in with a relatable story about how age crept up on her, it is only a matter of Time (geddit?) before further decline sets in.

TIME: Beinghuman Ltd / Gaynor O'FlynnBut rather than merely accept the inevitable, O’Flynn decides to exploit it, and (sort of) delves into the world of science fiction by turning her invisibility into a superpower. It took a while for the penny to drop for me, pondering as I was what she meant as she repeated at various intervals that her “powers” were getting “stronger and stronger” – though it remains unclear to me what she ultimately intended to do with her superpowers, aside from tell others about her investigative findings in the form of a show.

Her investigations involve, as far as I can tell, looking people up online and seeing how they’re getting on in life. Not just ‘people’, but women who she once knew, usually either as a friend of a friend or as a work-related acquaintance. They’ve naturally drifted apart over, ahem, time, but O’Flynn has reason to believe their lives have turned out to be more successful than hers. The trouble with O’Flynn’s ex-friends is that they, appearance aside, are too similar. Much work has gone into creating distinctive avatars of at least half a dozen of them, but they don’t actually do much aside from stand there, po-faced, moving their lips more or less in time with O’Flynn’s off-stage voiceovers of them.

When she appears as ‘herself’, in the flesh, she too is static, and personality-wise, the virtual characters have remarkably similar thought patterns to one another, until the play as a whole becomes suspiciously self-indulgent. Is the audience really expected to believe that they all hate their (largely highly successful) lives and are jealous of O’Flynn, thinking of her with increasing intensity every passing day? Are they not likelier to be getting on with their lives as best they can?

I also had trouble keeping up with the various nameless avatars and their backstories, if only because I wasn’t sure if the details being given were going to be relevant later on. For instance, at least a couple of them recalled O’Flynn living in Shoreditch a generation ago, when it was, they said, a very different place to what it is now (that is, infinitely more affordable). That didn’t, in the end, have any bearing on the level of current jealousy, and if we weren’t told where she lived decades ago, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

What is particularly frustrating is the show’s assertion that success can only be achieved by going against the flow and embracing unconventionality, just like the central character. To this end, there’s no celebration of the virtual characters. These women who have made substantial achievements in their chosen careers are instead considered to have wasted their lives, which seems disappointingly narrow-minded and shallow. Innovative technology is a wonderful thing, but perhaps there’s something reassuring about a continuing need for human and compassionate creativity to accompany it.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

TIME is the story of a middle-aged female cliché, who uses her post-menopausal superpower to visit her successful friends from her past and reinvent her life.

Written, performed and directed by Gaynor O’Flynn, whose work has featured on BBC, C4, and Canal+, and whose music has featured in films including Argo, Oscar Best Picture 2013 TIME has an award-winning team who also work for the National Theatre, Barbican and Sadlers Wells…

The show uses innovative immersive and virtual production techniques, featuring giant virtual characters, who join Gaynor to play the roles of her bigger, better, brighter friends.


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