Breaking app with the boyfriend: Vicky and Albert, Tête à Tête

“And in a world where everyone else is in possession of at least once significant other, I couldn’t be more alone.” Elfyn Jones’ timely little one-woman opera Vicky and Albert taps directly into modern loneliness with an unerring eye for detail and lashings of deliciously bitter humour. There are no Victorian monarchs: Vicky is a successful, sophisticated, mature and vulnerably lonely woman, worn down by the constant relationship successes of her friends. However, she has a private solution: an app which pretends to be her boyfriend, unfailingly texting her each day, always listening to her anxieties and sending loving, thoughtful messages in return. Vicky’s digital boyfriend is Albert; he’s extremely sweet; in fact, an impossible love tragically begins to blossom on both sides, until Vicky realises that a romance “condemned to speak forever through a screen” will ultimately sentence her to just more real-world loneliness. The score, for mezzo soprano, piano and digital soundscape, similarly mixes the human and inhuman, using sound effects to develop the narrative, with a disembodied electronic voice for Albert contrasting poignantly with Vicky’s very real presence on stage, supported by a flowing piano accompaniment played here by the composer, a sound desk at his side.

Jones’ pun on our constant need for reassurance from our mobile phones is darkly and brilliantly realised: Albert takes more interest in Vicky, and knows her more intimately, than any of her ‘real’ friends, but cannot give her the human companionship she fundamentally craves. However, he does begin to respond with a life of his own, even sending her chocolates, flowers and lobster thermidor to cheer her up (all one the same day – thus proving, sadly, he definitely is not a real-life man, who in my experience is barely capable of one of these nice things, let alone having the ideas and executing them all simultaneously). Vicky is touched, charmed but deeply upset by Albert’s gifts; the fantasy has become so real in one sense that its lack of reality becomes exponentially hurtful in another. Heartbroken, she unsubscribes.

Anna Prowse plays Vicky with witty panache, blending a warm, charismatic personality fuelled by obvious intellectual firepower with a gnawing inner despair. Prowse’s clear, expressive mezzo conveys Vicky’s thoughts with dramatic verve, appealing directly to our emotions while also finding subtle ways to show the ironic and increasingly painful dilemmas facing her character. Elfyn Jones’ direction brings the themes home: as Albert’s kindness seduces Vicky, we may wonder how often we ourselves conduct our friendships as digital ghosts, substituting an Amazon Prime present for a hug, or a quick text message for a real conversation. Vicky and Albert reminds us that digital relationships cannot be a true or satisfying substitute for human interaction, though they can be a dangerously easy distraction. Elfyn Jones’ sensitive observation of modern female loneliness shines with compassion, as well as down-to-earth realism: a refreshingly entertaining, curiously moving short work.

Presented by Sonopera as part of Tête à Tête Festival

Rating: Four

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