It’s not easy coming up with new and original angles for online drama particularly when it comes to audio work. Futures Theatre, however, have managed to do just that with a series of podcasts which mix real discussions with new writing which they have called Fully Amplified. Each episode consists of the voices of a group of women discussing their lives and connected issues interspersed with a piece written in the wake of that conversation. This new style of drama-documentary provides an intriguing mix where the discussion informs the drama, and the drama reflects on the discussion making for a satisfying whole which is more than the sum of its parts. This is a review of episodes 1 – 3; episodes 4 – 6 are reviewed here
The first episode is called Black Mermaids and features a small representative sample of Black, Brown and Diaspora women who have left London to live in Margate who talk about their place and their experiences in the local community. This is interesting enough in and of itself but is heightened by the inclusion of the monologue Aunty which is woven in and around sections of the discussion. Written by Tanya Loretta Dee and magnificently performed by Sharon D Clarke it tells of the life of a woman from Jamaica who was part of the Windrush generation and has become a key figure in her new community achieving a kind of wise woman status supporting others who come to her for help and advice. She has had a mystical encounter with the Greek God Thanatos (Margate is part of the Isle of Thanet) and it is revealed to her that when she passes on from this life she will be absorbed into the fabric of a lighthouse thus continuing to be a beacon to those who come after her. It’s a beautifully realised production and Clarke’s honeyed voice has probably never been put to better use.
Episode Two (Waiting For An Excuse To Turn) features British East and South East Asian women discussing the rise in racist behaviour towards them during the pandemic; they have been mistakenly identified as Chinese and therefore as somehow responsible for Covid 19. Understandably there is a level of anger and concern about brought out in the monologue piece Hunger by Ava Wong Davies which freely mixes reality and fantasy. It is performed by Chloe Ewart whose character finds herself valued at her place of work but after the Covid outbreak her regular appraisal becomes problematic. As she reflects on the rising level of attacks and racist insults, she starts to suffer stomach pains as a manifestation of her anxiety and inner anger; eventually she reaches breaking point. The title comes to mean both her fear of being consumed by events and the growing desire within her to make her voice and that of her community heard. It’s a most unsettling piece to listen to … but then so is the testimony of the real life speakers.
I recently enjoyed Abi Zakarian’s play Found written for 45 North’s Written On The Waves so I was encouraged to see her name attached to the third podcast (When Two Armenians Meet…). Her monologue is entitled Old Dough; this refers to lavash (flat bread) which originated in Armenia and is the first of many mentions of food throughout the play. It’s another piece where reality and fantasy intermingle as Ojen goes into her kitchen at dead of night to be confronted by generations of women in her family busy cooking and making explicit the connecting thread that joins her to her own past/heritage/culture. Jessie Bedrossian plays Ojen and other members of the family. Interesting though this is, it really makes so much more sense when you listen to the talk of three generations of women from the same family with a shared Armenian heritage and learn about the genocide which took place during the years of the First World War, and which is key to their shared identity. In fact, this aspect is far more dramatic than any writer could imagine and is a story simply screaming out to be told. America has only recently recognised the event; the UK has yet to do so.
All three episodes are worth attention and have cleverly used a new format to engage the listener fuelled by the impeccable sound design of Nicola Chang. I had feared the whole exercise might be rather “worthy” and the formatting might strike a false note, but not a bit of it. The lively discussions placed alongside well written monologue pieces which are more than ably performed, make for an engaging half hour listen each time and raise important topics which might otherwise have received insufficient attention. I look forward to picking up on the remaining episodes quite soon.
Fully Amplified is available via the Futures Theatre website – click here
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