This being said, this show, marked as monologue, is not entirely stand-up or theatre, but straddles the genres with elegant delivery of solid punch lines and cleverly theatrical use of props and set furniture, creating a world for us to buy in to, but maintaining the reality of our huddled presence. The craft of the theatrical elements of the show was whimsical and delightful, grounded by Eamonn’s honest embodiment of emotive experiences. This isn’t a comic who says ‘I laughed so hard’, this is a comic who takes us into that moment and embodies that contagious, booming laugh for us all to revel in. The performer’s imagination is vivid and we are caught up in it, seeing earthquake silt dust as cracked black pepper, or tasting dissatisfying bananas right alongside him.
Apologies if what follows errs into the field of ‘spoilers’ - it is only that the themes Eamonn raises are so important to our artistic and personal landscapes that it would feel wrong not to acknowledge them in some detail.
Craft aside, the subject of ‘Respite’ is in itself a breath of fresh air. Eamonn provides an insight into complicated mental health topics, as well as providing a vision of what young personhood feels like in our day and age - this one. It is sadly a familiar tale to hear someone talk about pouring their sadness and loneliness into studying really really hard, and we’re told that it’s normal and fine and a good distraction, we are not told to share, slow down, be kind to ourselves. In Eamonn’s performance I saw aspects of close friends, fellow students and young professionals alike, even shadows of myself. After all, as Eamonn expands, how can we hate ourselves if we are perfect people? That is the question for so many of us, trying desperately to do the right things, eat the right foods, date the right people, smile the right amount and earn enough money.
We bridge a gap between wanting to be treated as adults, but needing some of that nurturing behaviour, between resenting being treated like a child, and sometimes really needing that smothering affection. The performer summed this up beautifully in moments, rather than lessons. Another striking aspect of this experience that he communicated was the crippling fear of people seeing that you’re not coping… but we’re not coping. As individuals and as a community, sometimes we just aren’t, and it is a gift to acknowledge and admit that.
I never really understood the phrase ‘voice of a generation’ before, and maybe that’s because to me, the ‘voice of our generation’ would be something we don’t get to see very often - it’s at home behind pulled curtains cooking vegetarian curry and binge watching television and trying to will itself into being okay. Well, we found it. It’s Eamonn.
He brings us into his world, but also specifically into Christchurch four years ago this month. The Canterbury of the show, and it’s deep rooted foundation in those that cracked beneath our feet, is particularly visceral and beautiful. As a Christchurch-earthquake-kid myself, Eamonn’s recollection of his experiences took me back to my own, and we, as an audience, met with him in that communion all Cantabrians seem to find ourselves within when we mention the earthquakes, the words emblazoned on our minds in the shapes of rattling panes of glass and kettles on stoves. This hymn might be lost on those from other areas of the country, but as such a definite moment in New Zealand’s recent history, it feels somehow honourable to have a personal account of it in performance.
In this manner, this is not a terror or spin-tale, and Eamonn’s gentle manner keeps us with him in these moments, which draws it away from spectacle. Although spectacle might heighten the stakes of the show, it just doesn’t seem like that’s what the show is for at all, so I struggle to count that against it. This tone of meandering but focused storytelling let’s us follow along with the performer’s stream of consciousness, but it is apparent from the clean structure that this is a luxurious illusion founded in good rehearsal and stream-lined narrative. We go on a journey with Eamonn and, within the few days that cover the crux of the ‘story’, we see some change in him, we see a strong narrative arc, and we are full with the ending. The lilts in pacing are well constructed, and move as the tides of those fateful earthquake trembles, rippling and dilating.
Eamonn captures several things not held by many other comedians in our community. Firstly, he is self-deprecating in a wonderfully refreshing away. He does not fall into the traps commonly filled by other young male comedians in the Wellington scene by complaining about his wife/family/job/sex-life/dick, but instead is introspective and self-doubting in a human, vulnerable way. His openness is an absolute credit, and we are with him. Secondly, many comedians carry an air of being all-knowing, in control, almost smug. Eamonn, contrastingly, revels in his exploration of not knowing. This may be where the conversational element of the show strikes; there is no audience interaction as such, but we do feel invited to consider a lot of things, to discover alongside him rather than being told anything for sure. Thirdly, when Eamonn occasionally slips into dangerous areas of the ethical conundrum of sharing other people’s stories or potentially racially charged assumptions, he puts up his hands - he acknowledges that it is not okay. Again, other comedians seem to revel in this petulance, shocking with needlessly offensive humour and revelling in being punished by the crowd, but Eamonn instead admits his youth, the shittiness of his behaviour, takes action to make amends - changing names and calling himself out - and, despite my sensibilities, I find I’m on his side.
Overall, this show is a conversation and a liberation. Hearing mental health spoken about openly and personally is brave and something we witness, especially in comedy, far too rarely.
Eamonn makes dark matters seem brightened, he explores heaviness without weight, and by the end of it I ‘kind of had a sore face’, not from punching myself in the face as he once did, but from laughing, grinning, and some strenuous empathetic frowning. This time Eamonn, lay those hands upon your back, and pat it instead.