I am waiting for my friend.
I, like Andy Smith, am waiting for my friend. It is about a year or so ago and it’s the first time she has come to not only this city but also this flat – my flat with my husband whom she has met only once. Also like Andy and his friend played by Tim Crouch in this production, my friend and I used to live together, not in a ‘tiny flat on the North End Road’ but in a tiny flat on Old Bethnal Green Road. It was during the last year of university and we spent the year perfecting the drunken 4am conversation, sometimes turning it into a 6am one and in those moments, and the ones that followed in her Whitechapel flat the following year, I felt like we were the best of friends, like we would never run out of things to say to each other. But then things began to change. I moved to Bristol, started a MA at the university, fell in love and got married and started a nice life with my husband in a flat in Clifton. Trips to clubs were exchanged for trips to theatres and although I still stayed up late with friends, this was done in the context of dinner at someone’s house and involved dessert.
And it’s that awful moment when you are forced to realise that someone you were once so close to is now so distant that What Happens to Hope… narrates so aptly. I had become more and more interested in taking walks on the Downs and gardening on the balcony, whilst she remained convinced that everything in the UK outside of London was shit and anyone going anywhere was obviously going to be living there. And most depressing of all is when you realise that all those hours and hours and hours of drunken conversations did not actually bring you closer together, but rather masked the fact that, when sober, you had nothing in common at all.
So like Andy, I am waiting for my friend. And in some ways it may have been better for both of us (and my husband) if we had continued waiting for ever and preserved undamaged those great memories from the years before. For what came afterwards was a weekend so hideously awkward that the evening depicted on stage here tonight is not far off in terms of accuracy.
Why these moments of disintegrating friendship are so awful is that they force us to confront the frailty of our relationships in general. And this connects this on-stage narrative of an awful evening unfolding with the production’s other main theme, the relationships present within a theatre space, between audience members and those on stage.
Whilst Tim Crouch remains locked within the world of the drama on-stage (and does so as the perfect tragicomic antihero) Andy Smith spends at least half the time addressing the audience as much as his now-arrived friend. He talks about his own life and his own studies on theatre and the potential of the people within them. Us audience members shake hands with each other and, in a moment good for those of us with half-healed blisters, he invites us to take off our shoes in a gesture towards the Norwegian system of taking ones shoes off when entering a home ‘to show that one has truly arrived’. As someone with a past as a chronically shy child, I’m not always too keen on audience participation in shows, but I turn at the same microsecond as the girl sitting next to me in the shaking-hands moment and get met with her hand, her smiling eyes and… half a cream cracker hanging in her lips. I had noticed the cream cracker in her hand as she came in and registered it as a pleasingly odd thing to bring to a theatre, but here it is propped in her mouth so she can use her hand and we both, in one breath, collapse into giggles.
And in that moment I felt like it could be true what Andy Smith was saying because those little moments of laughter between strangers are always the best and weirdly give hope that we could actually have more in common in a nanosecond with the person in the seat next door (on a train, on a bus, in a theatre) than we sometimes feel with someone we used to live with and spent hours getting to know.
Sometimes the spaces in theatres are precious because even if you don’t communicate in any form with the people around you, everyone present is witness to the same event and you are there with a shared purpose – watching a production – which at least to a small degree bonds you together, shows you that all these divergent strangers all decided, unbeknownst to each other, to click the ‘buy tickets’ button and arrive here tonight.