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Play It Through

Snow Angel of Antarctica and Sugar Buddy

Yesterday, I went to see an Off West End production of two new plays by new theatre company The UnDisposables.

The first play, the Snow Angel of Antarctica poignantly explored a sibling relationship including rivalry, bickering, caring and inspiring each other.

Jimmy (Jaymin Michaels) and Ellie (Esther Joy Mackay) are twins. Jimmy, “the funny twin” is 10 minutes older than Ellie “the boring sensible twin”. Ellie is growing up, leaving home and going to university, while Jimmy spends his time listening to music and sometimes working in a toy shop, he still lives with mum and dad.

Inspired by a love of Happy Feet and the encouragement of his recently departed nan, Jimmy decides to spend his inherited savings on, the trip of a lifetime – to see the penguins in Antarctica. Somehow Ellie is dragged along too carrying the tent and complaining about her frozen toes.

The narrative jumps between the present day in Antarctica and the year before, as the trip is planned in Jimmy’s bedroom during Ellie’s holiday visits home.

Antarctica becomes a place where the twins must grow up and come to terms with their family grief. I was not the only audience member to be seen wiping a tear from my eye as they each found some inner peace in the beautiful snowy landscape surrounded by noisy penguins.

Ultimately it was a play about real relationships and connection. Two siblings going on their own hero’s journey; each as a foil to the other, each as a cheerleader for the other.

Sugar Buddy looked at a different kind of relationship. Graham (Connor Hughes) is socially awkward and appeared to be autistic. While waiting for a bus he meets Felicity (Sophie Winter-King) who is cool and chic. Graham decides to pay Felicity to be his friend and to teach him how to be more confident.

Together they visit various places, a cafe, galleries, trains and exercise classes but the relationship is always arms length. Felicity is here for the money. She resists anything which might cross the line from client to friend while still charging him for the privilege of her friendship.

Graham remains isolated and unconfident, but as the play progresses we begin to see a change in Felicity as she begins to face the social mask she wears to seem so cool, when she too sometimes feels lonely and awkward.

The play held a mirror to the trend to collect friends online without really feeling like you have made a real connection.

Some Dramatherapy theory

Reflecting on the plays today reminded me of Erik Erikson’s stages of human development. He had this to say about adolecents:

“The youth who is not sure of his identity shies away from interpersonal intimacy; but the surer he becomes of himself, the more he seeks it in the form of friendship, combat, leadership, love, and inspiration.” (Erikson, 1959: 101)

I think both plays show this, Snow Angel in the epic voyage and Sugar Buddy in the reach for true connection.

The theatre practicioner Grotowski says

“I have observed a certain external friendliness which is part of your daily mask. People are very ‘friendly,” but it is terribly difficult for them to make authentic contact; basically they are very lonely.” (Grotowski, 1968: 206)

Part of the training in dramatherapy looked at breaking down some of the defences we use which protect us from getting hurt but also stop us from really connecting – the way it is easier to text someone not present than talk to the person you are eating with.

But it is not enough to just be next to someone, the longing is for that relationship to have a deeper meaning

“Many a friendship or marriage has failed because, instead of relating to, and caring for, one another, one person uses another as a shield against isolation.” (Yalom, 2013: 11).

Yalom offers this advice

“The lesson here is simple: connection is paramount . Whether you are a family member, a friend, or a therapist, jump in. Get close in any way that feels appropriate. Speak from your heart. Reveal your own fears. Improvise. Hold the suffering one in anyway that gives comfort.” (Yalom, 2008: 130)

Make a commitment to start this now, real relationships do not mean never bickering, they mean being truthful about who you are in front of someone else and finding out who they are in return.

Bibliography

Erikson, E. H. (1959). Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: International Universities Press, Inc.
Grotowski, J. (1968). Towards a Poor Theatre. (E. Barba, Ed.) Whitstable: Methuen & Co Ltd.
Yalom, I. D. (2008). Stating at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death. London: Piatkus.
Yalom, I. D. (2013). Love’s executioner. London: Penguin.

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