Brighton Festival 2023
In 2014, choreographer Aakash Odedra launched Murmur 2.0, an autobiographical solo dance piece about dyslexia. Seven years later, the show was adapted for a young audience. Today the show reached the Attenborough Centre as part of Brighton Festival, where we were treated to an absolute delight.
I had gone in wondering how well the medium of contemporary dance would marry with the topic of dyslexia – what one could possibly say about the other. It took just two minutes of today’s performance before I was completely convinced of an inextricable connection between the two: movement is a language, much like any other, except that movement is not constrained by the arbitrary quirks of spelling and grammar. If the written word is not your forte, whether because you suffer from dyslexia or for any other reason, then why not instead embrace the often more powerful and versatile language of dance? So today’s performance starts as a spoken monologue, the language broken and stilted, and bit by bit the words are replaced by movement, until only the movement remains. And that’s when the show can really begin.
The role of sole performer in this show’s two incarnations has been taken by a few different people over the years, but I didn’t realise this until afterwards. Today’s performer was the young Kallirroi Vratti, and it is testament to her understanding of the subject matter that I fully assumed that this was her autobiography I was watching, an exploration of her own struggles with neurodiversity. This is quite aside from the fact that Vratti has phenomenal skill as a dancer, and a tender, personal connection with her audience. She carried us through these three quarters of an hour with an unwavering precision and grace.
The show is packed with visual moments of breathtaking brilliance, involving superb projections that border on magic, lovely shadow work, and the really clever use of several big fans (of the ventilation variety, not the supporter sort). There were at least five times I literally said “wow”.
So what of this show’s suitability for its target audience? Here I have thoughts. It’s advertised as “7+”, which, today at least, mostly attracted an audience of 5 to 8 year olds, and I’m doubtful as to whether many of them walked away with much grasp of what themes it was delving into. Maybe that’s fine; after all, it’s refreshing to see an entertainment for young people that doesn’t wear its morals on its sleeve, and that relies more on visual metaphor and abstraction than straightforward storytelling. But… okay, so I haven’t seen the original, and have no idea how much it has changed, but I’m tempted to guess: not quite enough. At one point she says something about having “spelled the most fundamental part of [her] identity incorrectly” – are all those four-syllable words really necessary, particularly when the concept itself is such a tricky one? Also, one thing that generally typifies theatre for young audiences is interactivity, and there were a few missed opportunities to incorporate some direct audience engagement. Instead, the auditorium lights were pitch black throughout, so the performer was unaware of the several moments where the kids around me yearned for more of a two-way experience.
Personally I’d say this is a brilliant piece for 10-14-year-olds. And adults. Adults will absolutely love it. This one did.
It was a joy hearing my 6-year-old daughter recount for her mother with bright-eyed enthusiasm what she’d seen. But she had one criticism, which I feel duty-bound to pass on. There’s a passage where the dancer searches with increasing anguish for a certain important piece of paper amongst the many that litter the stage. Then (tiny spoiler alert!!!), when she finds it – far upstage and with her back to us, so we don’t really clock the event – she briefly holds it aloft, and then discards it. Why, my daughter wants to know, was the piece of paper suddenly so unimportant when she’d been so keen to find it? I’m guessing there was some symbolism to do with rejecting the written word and embracing who you are, but yeah, it bothered me a bit too.
Those few niggles notwithstanding, I can utterly recommend this piece. The marriage of incredible dance with stunning visual effects will blow everyone away, regardless of age. I am a big fan (of the supporter sort, not the ventilation variety).