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‘Demonstrating the power of aural memories’: DIGITAL CARAVAN THEATRE – Series 2 (Online review)

Earlier this year Small Truth Theatre reimagined their unique caravan theatre (normally seating an audience of up to ten people) as a digital space and presented three online audio plays. They are now back with a second edition of these micro dramas and once again they have also presented BSL signed alternatives making the plays accessible to a wider audience. All three plays contemplate the influences of the past upon the present especially at a personal level.

In Time by Jessica Butcher a young songwriter called Rose contemplates the real-life story of Ruth Belville, a lady with a most unusual business. Belville inherited her father’s business in the dying years of the nineteenth century and pursued her trade up until 1939. This was to travel to the Greenwich clock every day, set her own pocket watch to GMT and then go round to various clients in the City and elsewhere and then reset their watches and clocks using the accurate time shown on her own.

Her business was only halted by the advent of the speaking clock but not before she had become involved in a scandal propounded by the owner of a rival firm selling a telegraphic time signal; basically she was accused that she “might have been using her femininity to gain business”. Storyteller Rose also finds keeping time of huge importance to her own trade  – that of composing – and so she interweaves telling us the Belville story with writing a song about time. The story is split into verses, a chorus, a bridge and a coda with Rose adding to the song as he goes. While the tale is slight enough it is engagingly told by Danusia Samal as Rose and I learned something about a character that sounds fantastical but was actually for real. The song’s not half bad either.

We remain in south-east London for the second play, Water both written and performed by babirye bukilwa. This is a much denser piece befitting of the fact that the author is also known as a poet. The play comes across as autobiographical though I have no idea whether it actually is or not. In any case, as it is about the bond between a mother and her child it has a certain degree of universality about it. We are invited to move swiftly through the life of the central character from  the ages of four to 25 stopping to listen to incidents and reminiscences about their mother who would seem to have been quite a dominant figure.

Many of the incidents have something to do with water. Sometimes it is simply the stuff one drinks; sometimes it is in the form of a geographical feature such as when they drive underneath the Thames; sometimes it centres on the bodily fluid when tears are shed to express an emotion. Mostly it is to do with the metaphorical life force so beloved of poets that runs through us and which guides us from childhood into the adult world. This would be an ideal piece to listen to just before going to sleep as bukilwa’s choice of language and soothing voice invites contemplation and reflection about feelings we experience every day.

The third piece is probably the most striking in terms of intensity and content matter and comes with some trigger warnings. In Rage by Chloe Todd Fordham, single mum Aurora finds herself climbing Deacons Hill late at night driven on by a turmoil that she cannot articulate. The immediate cause seems to have been an item on Newsnight about gender violence, once again on the increase as lockdown has tightened its hold. But her inner voice of rage which drives her on wants her to delve deeper into her own past to examine the root cause of her distress. Eventually she does so, uncovering some very uncomfortable facets of her own past life. Safiyya Ingar playing Aurora gives a compelling presentation of the young mother who revisits  her own history and wants to protect her daughter against the horrors she once encountered. It is an interesting idea to have an emotion articulate itself and Aurora’s inner rage is given life by Tanya Loretta Dee in a vocal performance which engages and propels the action forward.

Nicola Chang’s evocative soundscapes are a major success point in all three pieces; they help the listener’s imagination to take flight and demonstrate the power of aural memories. While on first glance these microplays may seem somewhat insubstantial they are actually full of a richness born out of careful time management giving them a leanness which is sometimes lacking in longer works. Besides, sometimes we don’t necessarily want a full meal all the time and these tapas like renditions are a positive substitute, whether you want to devour them in one sitting or savour them more slowly by having a treat every few days. Either way, bon appetite!

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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