Claustrophilia, VAULT Festival

Alice spent most of her teen years locked in a second floor spare bedroom, kidnapped by a man she never names. Deprived of her adolescence, the young woman is largely left to figure out how to be an adult on her own once she escapes. Alice wants to make friends, but her lack of social skills is an obstacle. 

In this solo performance, the audience becomes her confidante as she works through the consequences of someone stealing her autonomy at the age of thirteen. It’s not a pity party, though. Alice also has the forced maturity of someone who experienced something no one ever should. Both vulnerable and a guarded, blunt force, Alice’s hour-long disclosure is a compelling and well-delivered examination of trauma, privilege and resilience.

Eleanor Crosswell’s performance is the highlight of the production. She is stunning as Alice, with a presence that dares you to challenge her, or look at your phone, or do anything other than give her your full attention. She teeters in the liminal space between hardness and fragility, and the sense that at any moment she could collapse into one state or the other is a powerful tension builder. 

Naomi Westerman’s script is sturdy and thought-provoking, challenging preconceptions about kidnapping and unashamedly demanding understanding for trauma victims. Rebecca Gwyther’s direction compliments it well, though some of the choices are rather reserved. The lack of backstage forcing Gwyther to make some difficult choices about the beginning, but she pulls it off. However, despite total direct address in the text, Gwyther shies away from using it more boldly – a darkened audience space and an end-on stage is too safe and constrains Alice’s energy and honesty.

What with how challenging solo performances are to pull off effectively, the team behind this show absolutely deserve commendation. A strong script and a fantastic performance make this an impactful festival treat that deserves a future.

Claustrophilia runs through 19 February.

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