AGE IS A FEELING at Edinburgh Festival Fringe
“a beautifully constructed show, full of heart and heartbreak”
Haley McGee performs her new show, Age is a Feeling, a delicate, poignant, and ultimately – I think – uplifting piece of work about life, death and those moments in between; the one’s others remember us for, and the one’s no one ever really even knew about. McGee began developing the piece during the UK’s first national lockdown in 2020, and was inspired by interviews with hospice workers, as well as visits to cemeteries.
Zoë Hurwitz’s set is made of twelve tall, thin flowers, spread out in a circle, like the numbers on a clockface. Each one sits in a small plant pot. On each of the plants is a postcard, representing different stories from McGee’s life. (I should flag at this point that the show has a sort of autobiographical feel, but it’s not clear if any of this is actually from McGee’s life.) Throughout the performance, the audience chooses which of the six stories we get to hear, and which of the six will be left unheard. Some of the stories we hear tonight include ‘oyster’, ‘hospital’ and ‘crabtree’. We don’t tonight get to hear, for example, ‘fist’, ‘bus’, or ‘dog’. In the middle of the circle of plants and postcards is a tall, white lifeguard’s chair, which McGee spends a fair amount of time sat upon, narrating memories of her life which surround her. They’ve all already happened now, so she gets to look down on them as she narrates to us.
The stories begin at age twenty-five and journey through the human life until the point of death. Among them, we hear about broken hearts, relationships, family, grey hairs, backache and skincare. There is an emphasis on trying to live a life which goes against convention and, without ever becoming particularly sad about it, regrets or references to things we may have done differently. But also here is the feeling of inevitability. That it doesn’t matter if you know at aged twenty-five you should be eating more vegetables, drinking more water, exercising more frequently; it’s hard to make these changes when you’re young. You’ll make these changes ‘for a while’ and then move back to your old ways. The reception of ‘for a while’ at increasing ages makes us laugh at first; then it’s sad; and then it’s sort of funny again.
The show has a little bit of a slow start, but this plays to its benefit as McGee is able to gently and delicately build these layers upon layers of stories and memories, until before you know it she’s old, her friends and family are dying, as is inevitable, and we watch the life she’s built slowly decompose. Her performance of these stories is what makes them so extraordinary. Her voice is deeply controlled, soft, meditative, as it gently echos through the lecture theatre. Her eyes begin welling up, as she connects deeply with the audience, making it seem like these stories could belong to any one of us.
We spend so many years feeling anxious about what others think of us, and we make so many decisions or lose out to so many opportunities because of this; because we want to be popular or non-confrontational, and so much of this show is about grabbing life’s opportunities and jumping at them, being less afraid of what people will think of you because you only have one life. And once it’s gone, it’s just memories, stories told by other people. And ultimately, eventually, they’ll all be lost forever anyway. We take most our stories with us to the grave, so we might as well write them the best we can, when we can.
It’s a beautifully constructed show, full of heart and heartbreak and regrets, but ultimately hope and love and opportunity.
Reviewed 12th August 2022
by Joseph Winer
Photography by Thea Courtney
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