Writer and performer Adam Peck has spent much of this year performing his one-man show, Only in and around Bristol in schools, pubs, community centres and theatres. During this local tour, Peck picked people up along the way and, as a result, Only Us was born.
The audience sit in wooden chairs, arranged in a rough circle so that most faces in the room are visible to all. Peck moves around the audience as if moving around parts of his life, introducing - and talking to - his parents, neighbours, longed-for siblings and imaginary friends, each represented by an empty chair.
What's striking about this piece is, despite its heavily autobiographical texture, the absence of any sense of self-obsession. Peck makes it clear from the outset that he is interested in telling the truth about his life and the people in it. Often the truth about our lives is prosaic and colourless. In our realities, there is little room for the narcissism of performance and it's obvious that Peck is unafraid of this; the show starts before the technician has dimmed the lights and even before a final check for late comers has been made, which Peck does himself a few minutes in, these details adding to the strange combination of intimacy and the mundane.
Peck is frank yet somewhat reserved in his delivery; he shares stories about his childhood and the relationships therein. He often refrains from giving away his feelings, although there is a palpable sense of, not so much loneliness but aloneness (?) throughout his performance and there is a very tender moment towards the end of the first half of the show where he shares a more recent and demonstrative anecdote about the kindness of friends when the darkness creeps in.
The second half of the show is devoted entirely to the stories of the people borrowed from Peck's travels. The sense of space in the room is very apparent now, and it's a generous sense of space, as if the audience has been subliminally invited to silently join in. The performances are emotive and urgent although there is still the absence of any kind of showiness which, in a way, is hard to understand. But then, it becomes clearer why this might be: they're shy, and slightly guarded. And why is this so? Because they're just people, in a room, speaking the truth to other people in the room about their actual lives, about feeling alone and sad and disgusting and guilty and grief stricken and scared. This is a hard thing to do. We rarely do this with the people we trust.
This piece has been delicately directed; it seems each performer was given just about enough direction to propel them into the space to speak as candidly as possible without the safety net of acting. And they're not spilling their guts, either. They speak to the room quietly, each with an air of self-acceptance which is aspirational and brave.