Review: Title & Deed
Reviewed by Lox Dixon.
Presented as a part of TAHI Festival, 2022.
I’m going to make an earnest effort to mention the writing as little as possible in this review because that’s not really the point and everyone probably knows by now that Will Eno is a phenomenal writer.
That said, the beauty of this monologue is in the writing, and it’s the words that resonate with you, so it will be hard to stay away from mentioning it entirely.
I also need to make mention of an unfortunate occurrence that frames the way I saw this show. In my first attempt to see this piece, exactly a week prior to the performance I did get to see in its entirety, the actor was unable to continue the performance after struggling for lines about 20 minutes in. The majority of the piece is delivered in a rambling, old man telling us stories of his youth style, so I was considerably anxious throughout the performance that I did see in its entirety.
Steven Ray sits on a metal chair, a neutral expression on his face, music with a middle-eastern vibe twanging through the theatre sound system as we take our seats. He is dressed in a white linen suit,reminiscent of a British aristocrat in India, or Egypt, or some other area renowned for its hot climate.
Next to him is an ordinary looking piece of luggage, with a wooden walking stick-esque tucked nicely into the handle.
I like to be seated a few minutes early whenever possible at the theatre. I enjoy the opportunity to acclimatise to the atmosphere the creative team has put together, listen to the music, take in the stage setting before it comes to life. This is a show that plays nicely to those of us with this particular predisposition. By the time Steven utters the first line of the show, I have had time to stew in the curiosity, and am incredibly anxious to be taken on a journey.
The audience finds their seats, the doors close, Steven turns his head to us, and he says the line that haunts me for the rest of the show, and as I drive home afterwards… “I’m not from here.”
The show proceeds through a sometimes exhausting series of traveller’s anecdotes, observations from a cultural “outsider”, stories from the homeland, and fond recollection of the unnamed character’s parents. It is the sort of show that will resonate with different people for different reasons. I suspect for the older audience members it will draw up memories both fond and painful of emigration, upbringing under parents from an entirely different era who have long passed, and traditions they have had an active part in keeping alive.
For me, the resonant parts of the show are those that touch on the experience of being a wanderer. I spent a decent chunk of time abroad through my early 20s, and the feelings of foreignness, confusion, observing the trivial cultural differences between “away” and “home”, and then struggling to define what “home” is hit me hard. This is perhaps why the opening line stuck so strongly with me.
Steven delivers this monologue adequately, and tells the stories well. He is every bit a professional, which made it incredibly hard to tell when I first tried to catch this show that he was losing his way, until it was all the way lost and the show called off.
This being the case, there were a few moments of pause where I was worried it was all headed south again that perfectly fit the portrayal of the character as an older man reflecting on his life in real-time. At no point did this piece feel like a delivered pre-written piece of theatre, which is a real credit to Steven’s performance ability and the way he embodied the character.
The starkness of the stage, the age of the performer, and the delivery style added an extra dimension to this show that I’m not sure would otherwise exist. It felt a little bit like we had been welcomed into a version of the afterlife and were being told a story of someone’s life by a person who had died, and returned to a non-earthly realm. Perhaps that’s a bit woo-woo of an interpretation, but there are certain lines in the piece that hint that way, and I applaud the ambiguity of the presentation in leaving this line of interpretation open.
In particular, and without giving too much away, being queried by an immigration officer at the airport about the nature of the visit, and responding “I’m here to save us all”, gives the impression of a naïve soul, not just that of a young traveller, but perhaps that of a person new to earthly life itself.
This is a wonderfully written piece of theatre, staged with plenty of intrigue, and delivered in a fashion that both shows us someone enduring an emotional journey through life and travel, and takes us on the journey with them.
If ever you get the chance to see this piece performed, take it.