REVIEW: Lonely Planet, Trafalgar Studios

Loving, intelligent and real – Lonely  Planet will remind you of your humanity. 

LonelyPlanet_photocreditRichardHubertSmith Aaron Vodovoz (Carl) and Alexander McMorran (Jody)
(c)Richard Hubert Smith.

Lonely Planet tells the story of Jody, and his customer turned friend, Carl in the midst of the AIDs epidemic in America. It addresses the societal struggles many gay men faced, the support (and lack there of) given by their community as well as an interesting education into the study of maps. It involves two actors, with one constant setting; Jody’s Map shop, and tells its’ story through anecdotes, dreams and powerful monologues.

The performances delivered by Alexander McMorran (Jody) and Aaron Vodovoz (Carl) was absolutely faultless. Powerful and heartfelt performances were delivered by both actors and the chemistry between them both made the experience even more impactful. Both performers bounced so well off of each other and showed the realities of their friendship, including the difficult progression through tragedy and grief.

The book, written by Steven Dietz, was brilliant. Well paced and intelligently written, using metaphors and story telling to reflect the real world catastrophes that both characters, in their own ways, are refusing to directly discuss. The use of recurring themes; namely Carl’s ever-changing professions, or the many dreams that Jody explains in intricate detail, gives the story an enormous amount of heart and depth. This really gives the audience the ability to climb inside the minds of both men, and experience the ways in which they cope with the AIDs crisis individually.

What was wonderful was the clever use of comedy throughout the piece, which, despite the negative struggle the play presents, never felt out of place or forced. The jokes and sarcastic humour the characters used showed their real reaction to pain, which is quite accurate for some peoples’ reactions to trauma. This was so refreshing to watch, and although I was very moved by the heartache of the story, I was comforted by the humour and realness of the characters right until the end of the performance.

This piece is very well executed, with a constant steady pace and strong moral compass throughout. The communication between actor and audience is excellent, and this is clearly due to  the well-staged direction of Ian Brown which allows every member of the audience to feel and empathise with both characters throughout the performance.

The sound design (Peter West), despite mostly being used during transitions of scenes, did a good job of creating an atmosphere for the audience; reminding them that there is a world outside of Jody’s shop – as Carl frequently reminds Jody in the first half of the play. The attention to detail of making background noise get louder when doors opened, for example, was very well thought out and continued to add to the reality of the piece.

This play provides an excellent perspective for the voiceless victims of the AIDs crisis. Repeatedly the characters talk about how their sexualities are demonised by their communities as well as the response of the world towards victims of the disease. Jody’s character excellently portrays the hopeless defeat of people rejected by their neighbours during a time of need. Whilst Carl’s activism to do something is articulated through his self-created purpose of collecting chairs and bringing them to Jody’s apartment.

The set was wonderful, entirely decorated with maps, which took up all of the stage’s wall space. A clever use of see-through fabric walls allowed the entire audience to watch both actors at all times, even when Carl was outside the front door, which, without the see-through wall, wouldn’t have been possible to view for half of the audience.

My only real critique would be that the theatre can’t house enough people that this story needs to reach. The message and story behind this play is so important, that it deserves to be seen by the masses. However, sadly the cosy studio in which Lonely Planet inhabits simply can’t sustain the numbers it should be performed to. Despite this, I completely understand that this sacrifice was most likely made so that an intimate connection between performer and audience could be sustained throughout, which is a worthy decision, and positively affects the storytelling of the performance. Therefore, I hope that they will reach as many people as possible during their short run and continue to educate and inform about the AIDs crisis as well as the power of human connection on this planet we inhabit.

Overall, Lonely Planet massively impacted me. I felt very touched by the wonderful friendship of Jody and Carl as well as their light-hearted humour during a dark and turbulent time. They told their story beautifully and I wish the company every success with the rest of their run at Trafalgar Studios.

By Emily Schofield 

Lonely Planet will play at the Trafalgar Studios until the 7th July. To book tickets visit: ATG Tickets

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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