Described as ‘pop music meets poetry’, ‘Don’t Shoot the Albatross, written and performed by Sam Woof McColl, offers a piece of new writing, fusing monologue, dance and original pop music to explore a contemporary queer experience of sex, trauma and memory.
Performed for GOYA Theatre Company, it navigates the tricky art of the one-person show. Yet the charismatic lead plays it skilfully with gathering momentum and keeps the audience engaged with witty one-liners, punctuated by stream-of-consciousness meditations in which they teeter over exploring their trauma until an emotional climax.
The monologue offers a fusion of realism and the surreal, as the nameless main character leads us through unusually quiet London streets, making cutting observations about their sexual experiences with the disappointing ‘Colin from Milton Keanes’, encountering characters on a night out in Soho, and lapsing into moments of self-reflection with the abstract allusion to ‘large seafaring birds’.
The extended metaphor may benefit from an understanding of the allusion, we assume, to Coleridge’s albatross. However, arguably there may be something of the Chekhovian seagull, with the youthful yet world-weary character grappling to understand their identity by at times momentarily becoming the bird.
The abstract motif means the audience may be somewhat lost without prior knowledge of the possible literary allusions, particularly at first with the metaphor dropped jarringly into moments of realism. Yet the motif’s subtlety also avoids it becoming laboured or patronising to the audience. There are more explicit moments indicating the allusion’s possible purpose when the character describes dreaming of the albatross pulling its heart out. However, the piece maintains a good balance of guiding the audience and giving them creative freedom to interpret the symbol as they wish.
Key to balancing the real and abstract and supporting the simplicity of the performance space, a simple black-box theatre, is dance and an original pop soundtrack which help also help manage transitions and delve into the character’s psyche.
Music helps communicate the lead’s fear of addressing their trauma, using it to drown out their own thoughts, as when the delightfully sarky persona cracks over the anxiety of their headphones dying and facing a silent journey home. Likewise, they wittily comment on their mindless consumption of media to drown their thoughts by listening to podcasts about ‘celebrities talking about their favourite food, celebrities talking about themselves and before that, celebrities just talking!’
The abstract elements are also conveyed powerfully through movement and McColl Wolf’s emotion and energy blossom during these movement sequences. They emotionally convey both their character’s desire for dynamism to drown their thoughts and ultimately use movement as an expression of freedom in self-acceptance.
The piece also makes daring observations about modern society, as the character expresses frustration over what they see as a societal competition to be wounded. Moreover, there is a delightfully biting remark which may reflect the character’s struggle with internalised homophobia, when they ironically lament the loss of homophobes, quipping that ‘if we’re not careful, Joanna Lumley will launch a campaign to save the ‘dying breed’.
Yet at times the piece’s balance of comedy and exploration of these heavier themes becomes a little awkward. For example, it feels hard to accept a character like Colin, set up entirely as a caricature yet changing to a serious role of encouraging the lead’s healing journey with insightful comments that jar with his set-up.
Yet ultimately, the piece offers a sharp script with witty insights into contemporary attitudes to sex and exploration of queer identities. The shocking ending twist offers an interesting presentation of the complexities of trauma and memory and overall, it offers a profound mix of comedy and genuity to expose both individual queer experiences and the nature of contemporary society.
Don’t Shoot the Albatross is on at 18.05 at Playground 2, Zoo Playground until August 27th.
Image credit: courtesy of Don’t Shoot the Albatross press team, provided to The Student as press material.