Few times has a solo-led stage performance been as sharp and poignant in its exploration of identity than in Margaret Perry’s work.
Esther, nicknamed Essie, is our protagonist and self-prescribed ‘collapsible chair’ in Collapsible, the newest show running at the Old Fitz until April 1. This furious and emotional story tackles internet culture and Essie’s dissociation over a tense sixty minutes full of brilliant moments.
In the wake of losing their job, the breakdown of their relationship with their girlfriend, and as they begin to understand their place in the world, Essie (Janet Anderson) uses the internet as a crutch for a supportive community and consolation as their monologue twists and pivots between a handful of job interviews and social occasions with friends and family.
In an effort to understand who they are, they begin to write down the words that others use to describe them: ‘smart, bubbly, feet firming planted on the ground’ etc. However, they soon use these words as a means to establish who they truly are, collecting them like little secrets in a notebook – almost as if writing them down will wish them true. But as the list grows, so does Essie’s separation between those in her circle who are climbing the corporate ladder, landing in relationships, and moving into adulthood, and themself, as lost as ever.
Anderson soars in this confessional style of monologue, playing into the relatable and funny parts of the script with ease. Playing a number of characters with a range of accents, Anderson’s many expressions and transformations could rival Meryl Streep’s. Wavering between Essie, their father, a CEO, former work colleague, HR manager, best friends and more, their ability to slip between each and still make them feel distinguishable is a feat of its own.
Directors Zoe Hollyoak and Morgan Moroney do the best in reflecting Essie’s internal struggle on stage, with rich visuals and other moments of emptiness utilizing the Old Fitz space in inventive ways. Scenes of anxiety are more heightened than other moments, but they are all grounded by Anderson, who’s actions feel calculated and improvised simultaneously.
The set design by Hayden Relf surprises. It takes the feeling away from an above average one woman show that viewers are accustomed to with its ability to transition between parties, offices, a cafe, and other venues. Some videos occasionally appear to enhance the experience but aren’t essential to the story, almost distracting from the captivating Anderson. The lighting design is worth acknowledging as it adds to the atmosphere effectively (Morgan Moroney).
Despite being written in 2019, Margaret Perry’s script feels relevant as ever. She explores how the anxiety of a single person continues to reverberate internally, as people struggle to reconcile who they want to be, who they are and how their place exists in the wider world. it feels like a commentary on the state of the world, particularly in the years after the Covid-19 pandemic.
As Essie tries to find herself, so does the audience, who also look inward during these trials and tribulations. What eventuates is this story of social conformity and navigating the world in a meaningful and touching way. It’s from this struggle that Collapsible makes for a moving and brilliant celebration of humanity and all the challenges that come along with becoming who we are.