As I think I may have mentioned before, I’m a bit of a sucker for an intriguing title so for my second visit to the Brighton Fringe Festival it was inevitable that I would head towards a double bill of audio work with left field titles from the equally intriguingly named Nod At the Fox founded by Eden Harbud. I was surprised to discover, when I went to their website, that the company’s shows are renowned for the use of puppetry as part of the mix. How was that going to work in a non-visual format … more intrigue! The two audio plays concerned might best be described as meditative parables about life in the Covid era and both feature Harbud’s solo voice in a binaural sound landscape which mixes in atmospheric effects and music. The effect is, well … intriguing.
Breaking Up With Reality is a short reflection on relationships – a facet of life which has been strained over the last year or so with people being kept apart. However, this is not a piece about a relationship with another person but with the whole notion of reality. The narrator seems to be in a permanent state of lethargy – in bed till all hours, spending undue amounts of time in the shower and creating a complex sport out of a teabag and a mug, anything to while away the time. The notion of what constitutes an ordinary slice of life gets ever more distant until a “reality rabbit” appears on his bookshelf. It’s an origami rabbit (ah, there’s the nod towards puppetry) left there by the mysterious NN – for which read “New Normal” a phrase that I’m glad to say seems to have drifted out of fashion as quickly as it drifted in. For such a slight piece timewise, this part prosaic, part poetic meditation contains some profound and gnomic wisdom; Harbud puts this over in a clam untroubled voice which contrasts baldly with the rage we’re all supposed to be feeling about being locked away for so long. And can we greet reality in the same way ever again? When it briefly reappears for our narrator it is via the ubiquitous elbow bump rather than the hug which it deserves and many people generally crave. Talking of hugs neatly takes me to the second piece called …..
Hugs Tears And Replacement Bus Services, like its companion piece, uses an extended analogy to make its point. The sudden, literal, derailment of plans when finding out you have to take a bus rather than the anticipated train is annoying and frustrating; so too with life in the pandemic era. Instead of going straight from Point A to Point B we are forced into taking detours visiting embarkation and disembarkation points where nobody actually gets on or off. This is both a good and a bad thing because it is both time consuming but forces us to reflect more acutely on our surroundings. It provides a chance to look at things in microscopic detail such as when the traveller concentrates on the raindrops forming, gathering and moving on the bus windscreen. For many this has been the effect of ongoing lockdown characterised in the script as “an unavoidable bump in the road”. Some bump! I had trouble though working out the significance of all the other passengers being musicians – although this did provide a rationale for underscoring including a quirky duet for accordion and ukulele. It is, again, a piece that needs careful attention paid in order to understand the multi-layering which is going on.
Harbud has a very soothing voice and delivers his points in an unhurried and relaxing manner. And there’s some interesting use of collaged sound which certainly enhances the experience though it’s a shame that the puppetry has had to go by the board for this non-visual medium. I’d recommend these pieces as a “just before going to sleep” experience after which you may see things differently the next morning. As reflective dramas go these are up there with the best of them.
Breaking Up With Reality and Hugs Tears And Replacement Bus Services are both currently available as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival via Living Record – click here
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