How do we choose what we believe? Do we believe what we see with our eyes? Or do we believe what others find believable? What happens when these two things contradict one another? This is the intriguing dilemma at the heart of Thomas Eccleshare’s new play, about a scientist’s reflections on a strange encounter on a snowy, wind-swept night, the only explanation of which tests the limits of her credibility and sanity.
The more value you place on writing at the level of sentence, the more you will get from I’m Not Here Right Now.
The play takes the form of a storytelling show, in which a narrator (Eccleshare) largely reads from a paper script, whilst a single actor (Valentia Ceschi) portrays the play’s subject, Claire, a Cambridge research scientist with a love of mountaineering. The energy in the narrative, at least for the first forty-five minutes, comes from the storytelling script, with Claire’s only dialogue spoken in unison with the narrator.
Eccelshare’s script has many verse-like qualities that add a lot to its pace, intensity and beauty. The sentences are characterised by listed, parallel clauses whose roughly even length resemble the enjambed lines of much modern poetry. These clause structures allow images to build one on top of the other, giving space to a mosaic of different, inter-locking expressions for each scene and subject. Eccleshare’s use of pause and intonation further suggests line breaks. The result is a monologue that shapes and reshapes its subject line-on-line.
The disadvantage of all those parallel clauses, though, is that they deny much variation in tone and rhythm. Across the play’s whole, the effect can be that Eccleshare’s script feels locked into an intensely contemplative register from which it cannot move.
Similarly, despite a subtle and convincing performance from Ceschi, the live action component initially seems rather redundant next to the storytelling, possibly even detrimental. Claire’s presence on stage sometimes denies the audience the chance to imagine the story for ourselves; as do additional sound effects that accompany some episodes. Much of the pleasure that comes from similar storytelling shows - I’m Not Here Right Now is in broadly the same mode as a Daniel Kitson show - is often dissipated, although never entirely lost.
The relationship between character and narrator does have a satisfying twist towards the end of the play, with a big, climactic payoff. Whether this is enough to justify the inclusion of live action in the first place will vary between audience members.
The more value you place on writing at the level of sentence, the more you will get from I’m Not Here Right Now. Like Claire’s own expeditions through the snow and blizzards, the impact of the whole landscape remains elusive; even if the few steps immediately ahead, caught in the torch’s beam, look divine.