Brighton Fringe 2011
The Nightingale Theatre
An involving whole in parts, stringing and melding together a personal life with imagined and retold stories from others.
The things that are important to remember aren’t always those we wish to, some of the most unimportant memories are the ones that we treasure. David Sheppeard’s multi stranded show was an exploration of where our formative influences are, the places that we know we’ve come from, the places that we want to hold onto and the places that we don’t. The ambiguous texture of the way memories and relationships that, once important, overwhelming even, can recede into emotional distance, but also catch you up again, gave this show a proper emotional edge, without being harrowing. The show did explore the experience of growing up as a gay man, matching your experience against others, but also had a more universal feel – this was about growing up anyway in a sometimes painful world.
The specific and painful (the homophobicly bullied young man who laid himself on a railway track in Wales, first apologising to his sister for being gay is specific and heart wrenching) experiences were pointed but unlaboured just because they did talk to the experience we can all have of a world that isn’t understandable.The focus for some of the show – the kind of lens through which we see both the “gay” world and its “normal” counterpart – was nicely illustrated though the grandma. Played by Alice Booth because as Sheppeard said, he couldn’t play his grandmother without being stifled even more.
This was quintessential Grandma land, worthy of Alan Bennet, a grandma who dotes on her grandson, who still at 92 asks if he has a girlfriend, and can never be told the truth, because it might kill her. But – behind all her stories (oft repeated, always the same, often from that intensified time that people had in the 2nd World War) -what memories are suppressed, what longings unacted on or hidden? Taking off from some chance remarks in these stories, Sheppeard tells a story of what might have been in her life, of something that she might never have dared tell – and it’s a mixture of longing and beauty in its own right – and poignant because it reflects a distance in a family relationship that will never be travelled.
The show wore its multi-media aspects lightly, and they worked well – the flyer shows a sample of the striking crafted collages of people and places that were back projected. They helped with changes of pace and direction: then there was the invitation to write down the most memorable advice you had ever had, the joining together as an audience. The layout of the Nightingale black box theatre with seats down one side of the performance space as well as front seating, never more than three deep, helped in the creation of an atmosphere of intimacy that was appropriate to being invited into these lives and memories.
It was a fine piece of theatre and performance, even down to the karaoke performance of Benny & the Jets which gave an energetic lift to the climax – the whole show had this kaleidoscopic feel. You felt involved as much as being an spectator in the audience, and that is always quite something.