A few posts ago I noted that the BBC’s Lights Up festival was rather long on the number of monologues it was promoting. While this is understandable in the circumstances it does mean that the format is in danger of becoming exhausted and it has been a relief when something different has been tried such as with Sitting where three separate monologues have been intertwined. Two more diversifying away from the usual structure by adding in other elements which are by new (to me anyway) writer/performers have been recently aired so it makes sense to consider their merits together. Strictly speaking both are rather more performance pieces than they are plays. Though even now I’m not totally sure what I mean by creating that distinction.
Buttercup is by Liverpudlian poet/dramatist Dorcas Sebuyange who is of Congolese heritage. She plays Fortune (her nickname as a child was Buttercup) a young woman who is also a poet who is obliged to take her poetry reading event online to an unseen audience. Her hope is that this will include her mother as she has something important to say to her and has been unable to do so directly. Before we get to that point, however, Sebuyange reveals aspects of her character’s younger days both in Kinshasa and Liverpool which are particularly dominated by memories of her “Aunties” and the church to which the family belonged. What becomes apparent is that Fortune is concealing a significant event which has altered her life, one that she should have conversed with her mother about but never found the courage to do so – until now. Sebuyange is a lively performer and she plays a range of characters who inform the narrative which contains moments of humour. The monologue is punctuated by readings of the poetry which, as well as being interesting in their own right, comment on what has just been revealed or what is about to be. I have to say that while I could admire the skill with which it was put together, I didn’t find it particularly engaging. I am happy to admit that the piece sits far outside my experience and that I’m sure others will find it much more to their taste.
Testament (aka Andy Brooks) fuses narrative, rap, beat boxing and music to create what I believe is known as a multi-disciplinary performance in Orpheus In The Record Shop. Although the myth is obliquely referred to several times it is not so much a retelling of this as a meditation on loss and survival. Young record shop owner, Orpheus, is having a hard time with his shop and an even harder time with his personal relationship. Justine has decamped to Italy leaving him to deal with his flagging business and its curious mix of customers. Like Fortune in the previous play, Orpheus is having some communication problems with a parent. This time it is his father (cast list as Hades and played by Everal A Walsh) who, in a secondary shorter monologue which interrupts proceedings, reveals his disappointments with his son. What really makes this piece stand out, though, is the way in which it is staged. After the opening section, members of the Opera North ensemble gradually become spot lit and integrate their playing into the narrative providing an interesting fusion of sounds and styles which somehow work together to provide a unified whole. We also hear the voice of Justine/Eurydice as embodied by singer Helen Evora and her evocative vocalisations. As well as writing and performing the main monologue, Testament has also composed this soundtrack. His own performance veers between an amiable chatty confidentiality and some rather more impassioned rapping though I wasn’t totally sure of where it was all leading. Once again I found myself admiring the skill with which it was put together rather than the actual content – once again, though, I don’t really think I’m the target market.
Lights Up producer Jonty Claypole has certainly pulled together a diverse programme of material across the festival of which these two pieces form a part. News reports say he is stepping down from his main role as the BBC’s Director of Arts this month so he leaves behind him a treasure trove of performances which it is proving interesting to work through. The big coup of the festival is tonight’s launch of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale from the Royal Shakespeare Company. It will be the first time in their long history that they will be premiering a production on TV and the internet and not in the theatre as originally planned. My, how times have changed!
Buttercup and Orpheus In the record Shop are available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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