Theatre is all about faking it, right? Playing a character, making the audience believe in the story. Well, perhaps not always. Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is Sam’s cathartic confession, sharing tales of his experiences in the ‘sex bit’ of Craigslist. But this show is as much about you, the audience, as it is about him, the performer. It raises an interesting question of whether genuine personal connection and passionate emotion can be manufactured onstage, ditching the fakery and pretence for honesty and openness.
It’s hard to know how to even approach describing Five Encounters without spoiling all the genuine human honesty that makes it so special, so forgive me if this review is, at times, a little vague. But trust me on this: Five Encounters is possibly the most emotionally raw production so far this Fringe. Through extensive, but considered and caring audience participation, Sam truthfully shares his deepest anxieties and worries, and inexplicably, you’ll find yourself doing the same. And it’s really quite liberating. Genuine human connections are made and explored onstage, either between Sam and an audience member or between two audience members.
“refreshingly honest, painfully truthful and wonderfully personal”
There is one element of the production which I cannot resist from sharing. The whole audience are invited, again the key word being invited, an entirely optional activity, to write down something they wished they’d told someone but never had the chance. But, of course, all the confessions remain entirely anonymous. Eventually, you hear your darkest secrets being read out to a room full of strangers, no one having any idea whose is whose. And it’s dizzyingly exciting to be presenting your darkest thoughts on a proper public forum. Not to mention other confessions, which are heart-breaking, shocking and sometimes downright tragic.
Overarching all of these thought-provoking social experiments are the eponymous encounters on Craigslist. Let’s not beat around the bush, some of them are pretty damn graphic. But Five Encounters never revels in crudity. Sam describes encounters with clinical precision, focusing on the emotional impact of the encounter rather than wallowing in the details of the encounter itself. And, let’s be honest, everyone is kind of interested to know how those meetings go. When you’re being told it in such a raw and articulate manner, it’s frankly fascinating. Sam proves himself to be a brilliant storyteller and astute performer, holding the audience in the palm of his hand in a safe space where everyone feels at home.
Five Encounters exposes humans for what we really are: lustful and unashamed, yet insecure and vulnerable. There’s an inherent authenticity when you’re cultivating genuine human emotion, rather than just replicating emotion in a character. It’s refreshingly honest, painfully truthful and wonderfully personal. I cannot recommend this show enough.
ZOO, 4th – 28th August, 20:05