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Reviews/Perth Festival/Theatre

Is that really how it was?

17 February 2021

Memories spark memories, and the truth is rarely a straight line, David Zampatti realises after a performance of I’ll Tell You in Person.

I’ll Tell You in Person, Perth Festival, Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben ·
Alex Hotel, 16 February, 2021 ·

Two old friends, once close, bump into each other in a shopping centre carpark. They haven’t seen each other for a decade, and it’s awkward.

They observe each other’s changes – the wrinkles, or at least the lines where the wrinkles will be. They make brief small talk, but don’t say they must catch up – and they wouldn’t anyway. But they remember.

Those memories – and how they are different for each of them – are the stuff of I’ll Tell You in Person, by the theatre makers, Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben.

Anyone who saw Fag/Stag, Fowler’s 2015 collaboration with fellow The Last Great Hunt member Chris Isaacs, will quickly have an inkling of what’s going on in I’ll Tell You in Person, but the new work takes the idea an interesting step further.

The friendship between the unnamed boy/man and girl/woman (there’s no clear indication the relationship was ever sexual or even romantic) begins on their first day of uni and arcs through the ardent and casual stories of youth, its summers and winters, its rises and falls, all beautifully and succinctly described by Reuben and Fowler. The quality of observation in the writing and the tender sadness of its telling are impressive and deeply evocative – I found myself remembering moments just like the ones I was listening to, shared with people just like those telling them. We all have our own stories.

What matters most, though, are the things left unsaid, and this, ultimately, is Reuben and Fowler’s aim and the measure of its success.

At this point, it’s necessary to insert an unusual spoiler alert: it’s not about the story of the play, but how it is told. So if you’re going to the show and don’t want to know (and I suggest you shouldn’t), don’t read on!

To explain: you go to I’ll Tell You in Person in pairs (in my case, appropriately enough, with a close friend of 48 years’ standing). You sit facing each other wearing headphones through which you each hear a twenty-five-minute pre-recorded monologue – one is performed by Reuben and the other by Fowler, and they are performed simultaneously. In my case it was Reuben I heard, while my friend listened to Fowler (though initially, neither of us was aware that was the case).

As we discovered in the conversation my friend and I had after the piece, each story described the same events and relationships, but they were told from the different perspectives of each character. None of this is explained to us – indeed, my friend took my notepad from me halfway through and drew a set of headphones, the male and female symbols and a question mark: who was I listening to?

I’ll Tell You in Person is distinct and imaginative theatre, employing great skills (the subtle sound design of Max Juniper should be acknowledged here) to achieve an insightful and genuine outcome.

Before the show, we were encouraged to spend time after the show with the person we’d come with, to talk about the show, unravel what we’d learnt and what we still needed to learn. Find out what the other person was thinking.

We didn’t need to be asked.

I’ll Tell You in Person is at the Alex Hotel until 14 March 2021.

Pictured top: Different versions of the same events – ‘I’ll Tell You in Person’ is a show for pairs. Photo supplied

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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