The premise of Until It’s Gone, a dystopian sci-fi from Alison Carr, is that men have been so cruel to women that they have disappeared. No explanation is given for how this has happened: is it a supernatural protest, a manifestation of their discontent, or a collective escape to a secret location?
Wisely, for a short play it only hints at the wider ramifications and possibilities of a world with only men. We get a sense that they know they are dying out, and that society has become filthy, violent and poor. The set is a public space dedicated to the memories of lost women. Pictures are painted on broken walls and a bunch of flowers tied to a park bench – perhaps the favourite spot of a lost daughter, wife or mother.
This sense of mourning puts the focus of the drama on shared feelings of grief, loss, anger, and regret. But most importantly, the play focuses on the social isolation and lack of connectedness between men that such a world only exacerbates.
The performance revolves around two unnamed characters – an older man (Billy Mack) who was married when the women disappeared ,and who expected them to return, and a younger man (Sean Connor) who was a baby when his mother vanished. Social isolation has become so acute that the government has created a scheme to force men to form positive connections with one another.
This involves a checklist of things the men need to do before their connection will be considered a success. Failure can lead to a fine or prison, and it turns out both have failed before, so the stakes are high. Fortunately, the checklist doesn’t feel like padding, and even a bit of business about eating (what else would one do to pass the time?), has a worthwhile pay-off, in terms of both character and plot.
Carr’s writing is gentle and spare, and Caitlin Skinner’s direction subtle and humane, bringing out the best in both actors. Connor’s open yearning for a life he has never known, and Mack’s repressed pain for one was taken away from him, are both quietly, yet accumulatively, heart-breaking.
Not every show needs to be fireworks or farce. Our lives are made up of small moments that inflict deep wounds, and holding space for that within the culture is important which this play does to great success.