Alma, a Human Voice

Wed 1st – Sun 26th August 2018


Emilia Andrews

at 20:45 on 9th Aug 2018



One man, a suspense-filled silence, and a red suitcase filled with women’s clothing. This performance gripped me from the start. Going into the 'Alma, a Human Voice', I hadn’t heard of Alma Mahler before and was hoping to learn a little more about her life. Lorenzo Piccolo’s narrative tone seemed to promise me this when he finally broke his silence and addressed us.

'Alma, a Human Voice' is one-man show in which Lorenzo Piccolo, with his engaging stare and quick, captivating movements, takes on multiple voices and different drag costumes. It is based on the true story of the Austrian composer Alma Mahler and her lover Oskar Kokoschka. Oskar, after having been left by Alma, his love and artistic muse, asks for a life size doll to be made of her so that he can continue to be with her even though, as the doll-maker tells him, she has ‘no soul’. Intertwined with this tale is a different story of a woman on the phone going slowly mad as she waits for her lover to call her back.

The small, simple lamps which line the stage are of central importance to Piccolo’s performance, forming shadows which, along with the recordings of a woman’s voice coming through the speakers, help to create the illusion that he is not alone on stage. One particularly impressive moment is when Piccolo manages to create a convincing shadow of a woman using just an armchair and a wig. The shadow helps to leave the impression that Alma the doll is lying in the room with us.

While the play excels in its displays of the dramatic, the constant changes in character did make it difficult for me to follow the narrative and engage with the story being told. One moment, Piccolo, a fully-grown man, is curled up inside a tiny red suitcase and the next, he’s dancing in a pair of furry breasts and a pink tutu. The play’s attempts at telling a story of love and madness are, at times, confused by the addition of drag which appears to question the boundaries between genders but leaves this half-explored. This said, the furry-breast dance does provide some lighter relief from the otherwise melancholy depiction of two lovers’ descent into madness.

In spite of this, Piccolo did manage to keep me engaged, particularly in the way he spoke of Alma: ‘she wasn’t an object’, ‘Alma was never a still life’, she was ‘like a goddess’. As he said these things, I got the impression that perhaps the narrative was not of central importance to this play and that it was, instead, attempting to create a performance which was as artistically striking as Alma, who remains somewhat of a ghost throughout. That being said, I would have liked to have seen a clearer narrative than what was presented.


Andrew Jameson

at 09:55 on 10th Aug 2018



'Alma, a Human Voice' opens with Lorenzo Piccolo dressing the stage to resemble a female form. This stylised visualisation of attempting to create femininity establishes the tone and events of the rest of the play. The piece takes inspiration from an obsessive relationship between Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler, and also from Jean Cocteau's film "La Voix Humane", blending together audio and music with Piccolo's own movements as he attempts to find a female 'essence'.

Songs and lip-syncing feature throughout the piece, introducing a greater range of voices than would necessarily be expected from a one person play entitled 'a Human Voice'. This is a clever means of reflecting the play's varying sources as well as the complexity and difficulty that is found on Piccolo's journey to femininity. It also gave the play a pleasingly fresh and unique feeling.

As well as audio, 'Alma' also made good use of its visual elements - I found the use of lighting and the casting of shadows to be particularly skillful. One striking moment showed Piccolo framed against his shadow, cleverly depicting the difference between himself and the elusive feminine outline he is seeking. This image is repeated again in the play but in different circumstances, demonstrating the thought and precision within the drama.

Props were similarly used to great effect, with almost constant costume changes depicting a morphing and changing idea of woman. Props also created some stunning images, in particular a moment with a line of glasses and jars at the front of the stage.

Piccolo's performance is strong and forceful. He easily and effectively manages to flick between humorous nods to the audience and darker moments of quiet loneliness.

However, despite his energy, the narrative of the play did sag at times, and there were points when it felt rather slow. The complexity and almost unattainable nature of Piccolo's attempts to find a feminine essence meant that the play lost its sense of pace; things seemed to be happening purely for the sake of it, without contributing greatly to the play as a whole. This meant the play seemed less cohesive and I began to feel a little disconnected from the action.

The use of lip-syncing, while initially quite quirky and fun, did also start to feel a bit overused as the play progressed. The constant references elsewhere meant that the play we were watching seemed to lose itself. It might have been interesting to see the lip-syncing developed or used in different ways so that the continuous return to it would impart greater significance or meaning.

Overall 'ALMA, a Human Voice' is a unique show with character and energy, but which was slowed down by pacing issues.


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