A black dog is perhaps a rather genteel metaphor for depression, particularly when compared to the flatulent walrus that Annie Siddons has chosen to represent the encroaching loneliness of her suburban dislocation. Loneliness is not the same as depression, as Siddons points out in the show, but the dog and walrus are wont to introduce each other when you’re vulnerable. They’re from the same stable and they go hand in hand in vast modern cities and their blurred edges. The trek from home to work, the length of the working day, the dislocation of communities from each other and the yawning gap between what you might have and want stretches us thin.
Siddons left the centre of London and her artistic world for south-west Twickenham (home of rugby), and decided to stay after her divorce for the benefit of her daughters, allowing them to put down roots but constricting her life to the suburb. Her daughters appear in the show as young olive trees, their shallow root systems a representation of their new stability in a neighbourhood Siddons finds increasingly suffocating. The walrus of loneliness stalks her through video and appears on stage, underscoring the peculiarly surreal nature of personal isolation. Her loneliness defies description and logic.
The show touches on compulsive companionship, a suicide attempt, on ageing as a limit and on the little comforts offered by sex and drink and cathartic outbursts of swearing. The importance of connection with friends, and her phone as a lifeline to the world she’s cut off from is reinforced by a note that Siddons has since trained as a Samaritans listening volunteer. The necessity of these organisations is made all the more acute by the decimation of mental health provision in the UK. Where the state is lacking it is left to the Samaritans, to the Police and to A&E to pick up the slack. Other cities have begun to wake up to this, but London and the UK are still falling behind. In 2015 New York committed $853 million to a new program, Thrive NYC, to address the patchy nature of support for mental health in the city but London has still largely failed to act, despite the personal and economic costs of poor mental health provision. Siddons’ loneliness, outside clinical diagnosis but no less significant, speaks to the even larger grey areas of urban dislocation in-between pathology and mood. In the performance, the loneliness is embodied in frank and personal instances of subjective experience and confessional description, with the audience standing in as listening volunteer. (LC)
How (Not) To Live In Suburbia is on at 16.50 at Summerhall until August 28th. Level Access - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/how-not-to-live-in-suburbia
Annie Siddons: https://anniesiddons.co.uk
The Samaritans (Tel: 116 123): http://www.samaritans.org
London Mayoral Report: Invisible Costs of Mental Ill Health(2014): https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/gla_migrate_files_destination/Mental%20health%20report.pdf
Thrive NYC: A Roadmap for Mental Health for All: https://thrivenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ThriveNYC.pdf
Loneliness Uncovered: An Examination of Loneliness in the 21st Century: https://www.theguardian.com/society/series/loneliness-uncovered