On paper, it sounds like Are String Attached? tackles an impossible mish-mash of themes: graffiti spraying, professional tennis, and time at drama school. But we learn soon enough that these disparate forms of self-expression fulfil a common need – to be seen, to be respected, to be top dog. Billed as a "fictional autobiography", Simon Lovat's one-man play is both a gentle reflection on what matters in life, and a fascinating insight into what drives certain people to do the things they do.
Lovat first appears as an ageing former graffiti writer, brought out of self-imposed retirement to do one last favour for a friend. We're not talking Banksy-style street art here, or legalised graffiti on sanctioned sites; we're talking scrawls on trains and whitewashed walls, the stuff you go to prison for. I admit I'd never paused to wonder why graffiti writers take these risks, and Lovat makes a convincing case that it's different from simple vandalism. It's about asserting your identity, he says, forcing society to recognise your presence; and his description of the hierarchies and etiquette in this unfamiliar world are perhaps the highlight of the show.
But then, incongruously, we switch to tennis. This is almost a separate story, from a different time in the character's life; but the parallels are there, the desire to be the number one, the commitment and all-consuming dedication it takes to achieve that. It's bound up with a poignant and distressingly believable family story, and also – weirdly enough – with the Disney film Pinocchio. As a device to tie the show together Pinocchio felt a stretch to me, but it's justified by one eye-opening, spine-tingling moment when Lovat points out something that's very wrong with its plot.
And then, as if graffiti and tennis aren't diverse enough, we get a third strand: efforts to get into drama school. It's an entertaining segment and it highlights again the desire to be seen and admired, but it's less interesting than the other storylines and is arguably a little clichéd at the Fringe. There's the merest hint of self-indulgence to it; I don't necessarily want to hear an actor talk about what makes someone an actor, any more than you want me to spend the next 100 words explaining why I write reviews.
Lovat's style is unusual: self-aware, almost studied, each sentence given a moment to stand on its own and each gesture specifically placed. At times I found that put a little too much distance between myself and the narrative, and if I'm honest the exaggerated physicality grated on me now and then. But I forgave it all in the end, because it ties in nicely to the play's ultimate theme, about being conscious of the moment you're living in and letting other things go.
I enjoyed this show a lot, and its disparate strands resonate in unexpected and clever ways. But I still came out feeling it was a little disjointed – a combination of three quite separate storylines which don't quite belong together. The final resolution comes from left-field too, satisfying and convincing enough, but relatively unconnected to what we've heard before. But despite all that, or just maybe because of it, Are Strings Attached? has stuck in my mind; it's an eye-opening and enjoyable window into some very different worlds, and has a few thought-provoking morals to take home with you.