How did Haley McGee grow so wise? You would expect a solo fringe show about turning 25 to be a solipsistic run-through of first-world problems. Age Is a Feeling is anything but. If it had been written by a performer at the end of her life, it would count as an astonishing insight into the human condition. For McGee to show such wisdom at 36 is as breathtaking as it is moving.
We find her perched atop a ladder at the centre of a circle. Around her are a dozen tall-stemmed plants. In Zoë Hurwitz’s design, they are like the hours of a clock counting the finite time she has ahead of her. “You can’t foresee the future,” she says. “But you can feel it rushing towards you.”
And because none of us can predict what is to come, she introduces some jeopardy. On each of the steps is a postcard and on each postcard a word. At points through the performance, she asks the audience to pick some words and reject others. My audience chooses Book, Teeth and Oyster and discards Bus, Eggs and Plane.
That determines the future-tense stories she tells, characters from one popping up in another, older and more weather-worn, as the show pushes deeper into the imagined decades ahead. There are wild acts of spontaneity, passionate affairs, chance friendships, family schisms, health scares and moments of regret. It is often funny (“You will find a white pubic hair”) but more often wistful and knowing. The further around the clock she goes, the more heartbreaking her encapsulation of the human lifespan becomes.
Barefoot and casually dressed, McGee is a seductive storyteller. Her manner steady and undemonstrative, her tone warm and resonant, she offsets the lyricism of her writing with a rye, deadpan delivery. Under the direction of Adam Brace, her movements are spare and precise, the better to focus on the accumulating speculations of the life she – or anyone – might go on to lead.
Despite the mood of the times, she avoids anything apocalyptic, focusing instead on the personal details of the ageing process, be it shifting teeth or faltering friendships, her tone of sombre reflection creating a fascinating tension with her own relative youth.