by Laura Ferguson
Weaving their story through these narratives, we begin our undulating journey throughout Penwarden unpacking their simultaneous fear and familiarity with loneliness. Penwarden performs this so organically. The show is not overly scripted so their natural charm shines through and I latch on with greedy fingers, eyes hungry and soul ready to empathise. Penwarden cups us gently and shares their previous experiences with us: the coworker they crushed on unrequitedly, the primary school frenemy who was so cruel, the mother who saw it all and loved all the harder. We float with Penwarden in these tides, at times wallowing and others happily bubbling.
They are moments we go to when we feel our most alone, the times when your emotions tug at you to be pulled into a riptide of embarrassment. Penwarden manages to forgo the cringe-factor such honesty could bring forth by singing cute and catchy pun-filled songs. Of course, these are all about the whale. Everything is about the whale. Any parallels I find are manipulations on my part, Penwarden only supplies personal information for context, of course. This perpetual tongue-in-cheek deviation before coming back to reiterate the whale’s importance starts out funny and only rises in hilarity. It’s clever of Penwarden to ensure that this doesn’t get tired, her personable stuttering and elongated “Ahhh-um’s” are so charming it becomes impossible to be bored. Instead I’m involved enough to gesture with my head and hands that I agree that yes, of course it’s about the whale.
As the show heads to a climax, we join Penwarden in song, holding the hands of those beside us and the camaraderie is palpable. I am singing and smiling with everyone and the message of being alone together feels good. A reminder that when we look around us, the feeling of being lonely is something we all experience. As much as it sets us apart from others, it also binds us.
We whoop and holler at the end of the song. It’s not quite over yet though and Penwarden talks of whether the show is enough, whether they are enough for us, their validation-giving audience. Though we assure them that yes, it is, the response is another few minutes of going over what we have already heard, showing us that Penwarden’s experiences circle in perpetuity.
While this brings us back to Penwarden’s particular story, the togetherness is gone now and I feel that while we all jumped off the cliff into the ocean together, now we are treading water waiting for Penwarden to join us. They led us to the action but didn’t follow through, which is a shame. They deserve to. It’s fun and warm down here. It’s OK though, 52 Hertz is a lot to overcome in just one show, which I have to remember isn’t about Penwarden, it’s about The Loneliest Whale in the World.
The Loneliest Whale in the World is playing at BATS theatre from July 10 - 14 at 6.30pm. You can find tickets here.