Flying Solo 2014 at Contact Theatre: Trust the pilot

Polly Checkland Harding
jo-bannon-exposure manchester theatre contact flying solo

A festival that showcases the lone performer – & puts you at the mercy of the artists.

“You can trust me” – it’s a statement and a promise. The words come from the voice behind You With Me, a performance piece by production company Kaleider, and it’s a voice as faceless (to most) as my own. Yet although it’s billed as performance, forget traditional theatre: You With Me takes the form of a 45-minute telephone call, with individual listeners given a time, place and number to ring when they book their ticket.

Intrigued? You With Me is just one of several such performances; together they make up Contact’s Flying Solo Festival. It’s an event that celebrates the intensity of the lone performance; the one-on-one directness that can make for both the most intimidating, and rewarding, of audience experiences. The line-up for this year looks particularly solid – to find out why, you’ll have to stay with me a little longer.

What makes people willing to put themselves in the hands of a lone artist?

As a project, Flying Solo goes beyond a collection of performances: it is also a way for Contact – in partnership with MC Amsterdam, The Albany and Fuel Theatre in London – to nurture emerging artists. The result is some cutting-edge material that is courageous for its intimacy. Take Jo Bannon’s Exposure, for example, called “extraordinary” by The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner – a one-to-one show informed by Bannon’s albinism (which affects both her sight and appearance) and asks “how we look, how we are looked at and if we can ever really be seen”. Rachel Mars’ The Way You Tell Them, by contrast, happens in front of a collective audience – though Mars does adopt an interactive, conversational approach to explore the idea that “humour is a way to cope with the fact that there is no one shared reality.” It’s a show to take friends to, then, and discuss how you each found it after. Performers Jackie O’Hagan, Sophie Willan and Victoria Melody all feature in Creative Tourist’s article on Wonder Women – further evidence that Flying Solo is a festival worth watching out for.

However, this is a kind of performance that can’t rely on the reassuring diversity of the chorus, the shared spotlight. So what, in the end, makes people willing to put themselves in the hands of a lone artist – or writer, for that matter? The answer to this has something to do with authority, with corroboration and earned trust. Ultimately there’s always a risk involved – but, as author Erica Jong says, “if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” So go on, take a risk. It’s not just me that thinks you should.

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