Atlantic, VAULT Festival

10by Joanna Trainor

I love an illuminated umbrella. All shows could be improved by a light-up umbrella.

Somewhere beyond the sea, Emma waits on the shoreline by the Golden Gate Bridge, and PJ looks out from some of England’s slightly less famous white cliff faces. At face value this is a story about a long-distance relationship and the struggles you face when you’re in one. But more than that it’s about isolation, dependence and the ties we have to other people. There are sections that are a little obscure, and the performance takes a while to warm up, but the underlying theme will always pull you back in.

The vast distance between San Francisco and Portsmouth is represented by Emma Clark and PJ Stanley standing at each end of the benches in the space. It’s clear why they’ve set themselves up in traverse like this, but watching the performance does feel like being at Wimbledon at times. Instinctively you turn to face the performer who is speaking but you also don’t want to miss the other’s reaction. Theatre isn’t always supposed to be comfortable; the situation is difficult for Emma and PJ so it’s fair that it should be for the audience as well. But if they could stand just slightly closer together that would be so helpful.

Issues with staging aside, there are some beautiful moments in Atlantic. Sound is a difficult medium to play with in the Vaults because of the ambient noise of the trains overhead, but Emma and PJ include it to create something almost hypnotic. Swinging the microphone to each other, they share the sound of their heart or head or even their veins – anything to connect to the other person all those miles away. It’s something so simple but the motion of the mic makes you feel quite zen by the end of it.

And that final image of the two of them huddled under the umbrella, water dripping down, the steam pouring off their heads caught in the fairy lights under the brolly, that’ll stick with you.

It sounds a bit twee, but across continents or just across London Atlantic feels like a timely reminder to reach out to the ones you love and hold them close.

Atlantic runs through 20 February.

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