Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
Check-in/Check-out begins with six people sitting in a loose semi-circle. One of them stands up: “Hi, my name is Christopher, and I’m an alcoholic”. After a little light prompting, we progress around the circle, and after every admission, echo back the traditional second line: “Hi (name inserted)!”.
The play progresses in pretty much this fashion; the attendees of the meeting cycle in and out of their personal stories, highlighting important parts of their addiction and recovery journey. It doesn’t feel as serious or heavy as it might sound though. These stories don’t bump along the usual points of reference, instead they’re personal moments – like an argument with your mother over a stolen banana. Yes, they wouldn’t necessarily make it into the movie but they’re poignant to the real people, because these are real people’s stories. It’s this quality that bonds you to the experiences of six strangers; there’s no hyperbole or pregnant pauses, just honesty, and even some (very appreciated) dark humour.
One of my favourite things about the VAULT Festival in general is the creativity that these companies use in small, sparse, spaces. Check-in/Check-out is no exception. There are some really great and interesting devices and transitions; one of my favourites was when the performers gathered together and painted a picture of some of their various discretions. They peered over each other’s shoulders and pointed themselves out – there Liam is sleeping under a truck in winter after a boozy night out; there Christopher is wandering down the street bleeding after a particularly heavy night on coke. That is one example of many – Check-in/Check-out feels aware of how dragging a straight hour of discussion of addiction could be, so they lighten it with innovative little oddities. A special mention must go here to the choreographed dance at the end – it’s awkward, slightly fumbling, and deeply poignant.
There is clunkiness here – whether it’s nerves or not, there were consistently lines fumbled or parts of transitions forgotten; notably one where a performer would yell out names of drugs to a chorus back from everyone else. When one link in that chain fell out, there was an awkward silence, punctuated every so often by a slightly panicked yell as a performer remembered their cue. Luckily, the subject matter is compelling enough – but it’s a shame it’s let down by a lack of flow, and some patchy stage presence.
That said, I felt touched and involved by the snippets of stories I heard at Check-in/Check-out.
My verdict? It was a unique experience, and one definitely worth having.
Check-in/Check-out runs at the VAULT Festival until 10 March 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.