EFR - Reviews of Female Hitchhiker: The Truth About Getting Around

Female Hitchhiker: The Truth About Getting Around

Thu 4th – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Edie Livesey

at 11:22 on 12th Aug 2011

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I was so moved by Female Hitchhiker I don’t really know how to express it in words. At its best this was as beautiful a piece of travel writing as Touching the Void.

Clara Lilly’s monologue shifts between journey and destination, as she hitchhikes round the country to reach her friends at critical junctures in their lives. The problems of the people who pick her up are mostly unanswerable, and are set against Lilly’s shifts from one point of dramatic crisis to another in her own life. Thus the monologue contains both the crisis and the dull enduring pain after the crisis in equal measure.

Momentary relationships with strangers counterpoint her account of her relationships with her oldest friends – the reason she’s traveling at all. At its boldest early moments the monologue relates Lilly’s interaction with the inertia of the grief she encounters ‘on the road’. She finds herself in full engagement with the strangers whose problems she hears, as though confronting her own future. At one point, having stepped into a wife’s shoes and told a grieving man he’s wrong, she is so engaged she “understood how two amazing women could have loved this man, and for a moment I loved him too.” Then the climax of the piece occurs on an obscure road in a valley in a moment of unprecedented loneliness, not at the crisis of destination after all. Perhaps our real destination is the aftermath of experience, not dramatic crisis, and we are left to take whatever comfort there is for us in that.

Admittedly, the show takes a while to get in to. Parts of it are quite obscure, partly, I suspect, because Lilly was unwilling to share every detail of such personal experiences. It is unclear, for example, why she felt she’d ruined the life of her friend’s baby. Perhaps there was some deliberate ambiguity here, but the monologues were at their best when at their most open, even if they were openly not telling us something. Lilly’s opening on the vulnerability of the female hitchhiker has a dramatic point, however, since it throws light on the reason why her destinations are important: hitchhiking is a risk she takes in her desperation to reach her friends.

The intensity of Lilly’s understanding of the stories is infectious. Lilly doesn’t pity anyone, least of all herself, and the monologue is funny as well as sad. Sometimes Lilly finds herself in such a mess that that she can only laugh. Ultimately, the show is honest and brave – a must-see.

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Harriet Baker

at 12:09 on 12th Aug 2011

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Clara Lilly opens her set with a play on first impressions. She is setting out to hitchhike, and asks the audience if she looks ‘fun’ in a green t-shirt, or better with a Guinness hat on. She muses, “They might think I’ve been drinking.” She then takes her t-shirt off, revealing a cleavage-enhancing vest. “Will I get more lifts like this? Will they be the wrong kinds of lifts?” This is an effective beginning, however, it takes about ten minutes, and the audience watches her fumbling with her clothes and her rucksack whilst she delivers unconvincing dialogue into the microphone.

Lilly’s set proceeds in this manner; it is awkward, child-like, even, a performance by somebody who couldn’t be more unlike a performer. It is a string of stories and encounters, with the basic framework of the hitchhike. Yet whilst her performance often jars and fixes the audience into moments of awkward silence, her subject matter is alarmingly brilliant. She only does half the work, suggesting little and leaving the audience to discover much; such as the reciprocality between body image and the people one is likely to be picked up by, or the way it is more natural to tell one’s deepest secrets to a stranger. Lilly trusts us with her most intimate encounters; her conversation with a Yorkshire lorry driver called Mick after the death of her best friend. She is grief-stricken and greeted by a stranger’s cab, and yet enjoys an evening of companionship that is more than sex, more akin to mutual understanding and companionship. She also tells other people’s stories, wishing them well after moments of brevity and yet extreme intimacy. She shares journey time with unexpected people, and the binding agent is sympathy, the realization that the peaks and troughs of human experience are something everybody has in common. She finds comfort with strangers, and fosters a true belief in unexpected experiences with unexpected people, “people out on a limb, people holding on in the dark.”

Whilst Lilly muses on issues such as love and death, there are comic moments, too. Sex is a huge part of the hitchhiker’s experience. She tells the story of 24-year-old Jason, who drives her one hundred miles out of his route on the off chance of sex. She is not offended, but finds it amusing. It is one aspect of the wider set of experiences of the hitchhiker.

The subject matter is rich and effective, yet the performance is stilted. Lilly experiments with techniques of story telling on stage; dialogue is administered in forms as crude as turning her head and talking to different angles of the microphone. It just looks bizarre. In a story involving a baby, she holds a crumpled photograph and cradles it until it slips to the floor in a movement symbolizing loss, but it just doesn’t work. Whilst the stories are heart-felt, they are administered in cliché and horrible attempts to laugh and cry on stage. If this was less of a performance, and more conversational, it would appear more genuine, revealing the gems of her stories in their better form. Although badly played out, Lilly’s stories touch on human experience; her stories speak of love and loss, of acts of kindness and the consolation of strangers.

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