Age Is a Feeling, Soho Theatre

by Laura Kressly

We have time, and life is short. It’s ok to make mistakes, and every choice has a consequence. Self-care is important and so is hitting milestones. These conflicting truisms living within us inform small decisions and big ones. As actor/writer Hayley McGee demonstrates, they are often the root of our greatest pleasures and most suffocating griefs. Her monologue narrating an unnamed person’s life, from age 25 through the years after the they die, hones in on key episodes that irrevocably define them and their future, as well as drawing attention to death’s inevitability. As sombre as this piece is, it also adeptly encapsulates moments of joy. As a whole, it’s deeply human and beautifully performed.

Of course, a person’s life is too long and complex to fit into a 70-minute play. Even the 12 moments McGee created don’t, so she asks audience members at random to choose about half of them. Those left out are summarised in a sentence or two within their respective places in the story, but there’s a knowing weight that comes from realising just how many important things in our lives go unwitnessed. A melancholic, ‘If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it, does it make a sound’ comes to mind, as does the fact that every show is likely to be different.

McGee uses the second person – you – throughout the monologue to excellent effect. Rather than telling us about a real or fictionalised version of herself, or a character she created, she projects this story onto the audience. Though it’s likely much of the story will only minimally relate to any given person, this dramaturgical choice personalises it and bridges McGee and her audience. Intimacy, and reflection prompted by the events she tells, abound. However, it takes some time for this device to bed in, and earlier on it comes across as a generic everyman. It’s only as this character ages that they become more specific, and through the ‘egg’ scene do we realise that ‘you’ is a person who can have IVF.

Her delivery is calm and even, though this does not mean she is emotionless. There are many unexpected moments of exuberance, defiance and sadness that stand out within a broader spectrum of emotion. The character’s humanity rings loudly, and McGee often weeps – tears slide down her checks with little to no acknowledgement. They never interfere with her purpose, nor does she disrupt their paths. Their presence, and much of the show’s content, are touching reminders to embrace emotional responses to life’s challenges and thoughts of its inevitable end.

Age Is a Feeling runs through 11 March 2023.

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