Originally written for The Public Reviews
Warmly funny and, at times, starkly honest; Holocene is a considered and unflinching look at anxiety and OCD, but a shifting format and overarching geological metaphor that doesn’t quite fall into place leave it just short of wonderful.
David is intrigued by volcanoes. He also suffers from OCD. What follows is a meandering tour through his experiences, both as a child and an adult, of developing anxiety and attendant coping mechanisms. A terrifyingly unhelpful NHS pamphlet and a box of rocks also make a guest appearance.
Parallel to this, he tells the true story of Maurice and Katia Krafft; two volcanologists famous for filming eruptions and getting closer to lava flows than many would dare.
As a performer, Sheppeard is warm and engaging; infusing scenes with his wry, self-deprecating humour and undercutting the harsher moments with enjoyable levity. It is easy to identify with his neuroses and he cleverly weaves together incidences of anxiety that many of us have suffered from (age 10: ‘What if Yellowstone erupts and kills us all?’) with those less recognisable to the average audience member that extend into his experience of OCD (‘What if I kill my housemate?’).
The footage and parallel story of the Kraffts is fascinating in its own right, but doesn’t mesh very elegantly with the themes Sheppeard is exploring in his personal story. While his own relationship with and love of volcanology and geology make sense, within the context of the piece the metaphor does not sit well and leads to a somewhat choppy experience as his highly personal pieces are intercut with spectacular eruption videos. Only at the end is the intended connection between emotional and geological upheaval elaborated upon and it seems hasty, whereas one feels an entire piece by Sheppeard on either topic would have been immensely enjoyable.
A well performed piece that handles a difficult topic with care and surprising wit, Holocene is an engaging work but suffers slightly from a rhyolitic resistance to flow.