Sunday, 8 October 2017

Review What Once Was Ours

What Once Was Ours
Writer/Dramaturg Chris Elwell

Peace In Our Time?

The world has become a slippery place for many across the generations.

However young people who have grown up in the 21st century UK and elsewhere have never known anything else.

Globalization seems to have crumbled into a mass of contradictory lobbies, authorities and commercial enterprises seeking to influence hearts and minds. Inevitably, in all this Brexit, Britain's exit from the European Union, looms large.

But in the midst of all this, Callum (Jaz Hutchins) has come searching for a part of himself left behind when his Mum split from his Dad.

He knocks on the door when Katie (Pippa Beckwith), his younger half sister, is home alone, their Dad and his current partner away.

At first she is reluctant, submerged in her own thoughts, although polite enough to come out of herself and  invite him in for a cup of tea.

We, the audience, sit in the black box space of the children's theatre, The Half Moon, right in the middle of the action on blocks as spongy and porous as the uncertain world in which we now all live.

Verity Quinn's ingenious, playful design is as much a character as mixed race Callum and white Katie.  Kettles and tea emerge from an uncapped pillar and the actors move round and gently shift audience members as the two require the blocks and minimal props for action.

It's unusual to see, hear and feel a play where the design is so integral to the experience and part of the Brexit feel without mentioning the B word itself.

Swirling past our ears is a soundscape, designed by Guy Connelly, with young voices taken from Remain and Leave towns in Britain  but also dwelling on jobs, community, isolation, a generation dislocated by technology and the certainties of previous times.

Writer and dramaturge Chris Elwell,  who alongside director Toby Eaden has worked with a quartet of researchers, keeps it archetypal but puts in tiny pinpricks of literature involved in other communal shifts.

Nobody needs to know any literary history. They can just absorb delicate but powerful images contributing to an atmosphere everyone can recognize.

But surely there is just the tiniest gesture towards Thornton Wilder's Our Town? Callum, two years older than Katie and still brought up on the printed word, also spills the lively children's DC Thompson comics he's always kept, The Dandy and The Beano, on the floor,

These were  first published when a mobile phone would have meant a rotary dial telephone on a table with wheels!😉, but they reminded TLT too of Adrian Mitchell's Nostalgia - Now Three Pence Off, a poem about a 20th century generation gap.

At another point Callum takes the lead and the blocks are transformed into an island or a boat without moorings  where brother and sister seem to be sharing an adventure as in one of those now old fashioned children's books so popular before social media tightened its girdle round the world.  

Toby Ealden keeps what seems to be a light touch. The actors know where they have to be for each of the play's movements, even if how they get there changes from performance to performance dependent on the audience.

It's easy to take the fluent work of movement director Amy O'Sullivan for granted in this fluid piece lasting barely an hour. The story may be bordering on the stuff of soap opera but that also means it doesn't shy away from issues. It's fast-moving but also a peaceful framework for divisive issues distilled in mixed up Katie and watchful Callum.

The graceful staging and thoughtful script  make it a soulful, delicate and, yes, communal experience for the audience, whatever their opinions. It's jolly, wistful, stimulating and calming all at the same time and certainly deserves a bright TLT green light.

This is a touring production which continues at the Half Moon Theatre until Wednesday, October 11 before moving to Oxford, Bournemouth, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Banbury, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Woolwich, Finchley and Stratford in London, Farnham in Surrey, Bedford, Sale, Burnley, Barnsley, Louth, Norwich, Grantham, Stamford, Spalding, Lincoln, Doncaster, Bath, Burton, Canterbury and Didcot.

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