We are thrilled to share this review by Stella Backhouse of The Only Way Out Is in.
For cautious theatre-lovers, longing to return to live performance but still nervous about sitting in a crowded auditorium, Sharron Devine’s The Only Way Out Is In at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre was the perfect low-stress re-entry. That’s because each of Sharron’s one-woman shows was also, for the fifty-two individuals lucky enough to secure themselves a ticket, a one-audience-member show. Sealed inside their own little bubble, artist and participant shared twenty minutes of multi-sensory meditation on how we cope when everything in our fast-paced world suddenly grinds to a halt.
In The Only Way Out Is In clearly grew out of memories of lockdown and social distancing. Visualise the title and what you’ll see is the turning inwards, the groping for self-sufficiency, the reliance for support on internal – rather than external – resources that characterised the enforced contraction of our usual horizons. For many people, deprived of their usual routines and contacts, it was a painful and lonely time; but for others it was a revelation, an opportunity to explore surprising inner continents they never knew existed.
Sharron recreated the pandemic experience in a number of ways. On entering the theatre space, the audience-member was presented with an eclectic selection of items, and invited to pick out one that spoke to them in some way. If I’m really honest, nothing jumped out at me – but in a way, that was perhaps my statement. I’ve never been very materialistic. As a definition of self, it’s as valid as any other, and this was about self-definition, about what would be left if we reduced ourselves down to an essential inner core. It reminded me of Desert Island Discs, where the castaway can only choose a tiny number of items to remind them of who they are during a prolonged period of solitude.
After that, I was asked to don a blindfold. Sharron gently guided me to a second chair, at some indeterminate distance from where I was sitting before, and I listened as she spoke of her own lockdown experiences, accompanied by music, sound effects and occasional wafts of scent. The loss of input from what is for most people, including me, the primary sensory organ, again forced me to turn inwards and experience my immediate surroundings and the wider world in an unfamiliar way.
The Only Way Out Is In provided space to reflect on how the strangeness and uncertainty of recent events changed our perceptions. As I sat with my blindfold on, wondering what was going to happen next, unsure how close to me Sharron really was, she suddenly asked “Have you missed travel? I’ve missed travel. I love that feeling of not knowing where you are, feeling disorientated.” “Tell me about it” I thought. It was a neat illustration of The Only Way Out Is In as a whole, reminding that our inner life can be just as provocative as stimulus from beyond ourselves. I eventually left through a maze of white curtains, which Sharron said represented nature, the tonic many people turned to during lockdown to bring their inner and outer worlds together in restoration of the soul.
Written by Stella Backhouse, October 2021
Images by Andy Moore