Fringe Online 2021
Through a series of monologues and duologues we have the run from the Brixton Riots of 1991, through the aftermath of 9/11, the hope and anger of Black Lives Matters, challenges from Brexit and how COVID-19 may have impacted disaffected communities with frequently changing guides including Neil who was wrongfully imprisoned, a young Conservative, a young woman fighting prejudice with the police on behalf of er boyfriend, a young gay man, a woman in search of betterment, and a man now long bitter for the imprisonment he suffered for a crime of which he was not guilty; this is a wide and uncomfortable perspective. Each episode begins with authentic audio of the time period which tends to introduce more in them than narrative. From there that launches us into each piece of audio story which opens up perspective. In each audio story we launch forward in time but not in circumstance as the same prejudicial nonsense is experienced throughout our age.
As a white man who has lived through each and every one of these events it was a struggle to find myself not feeling the guilt of “I was not there but I thought very differently” at each of these short audio pieces. I felt not guilt, however, but that my experience was rightly being challenged, opened up and my empathy widened. It engaged me in the discussion by allowing me to hear the effects of the ways we found ourselves as a society making people of different colour feel during times when they ought to have been integrated fully into our thoughts concerns and communities.
It’s the writing, by Roy Williams, which first of all drew me to the conclusion that this was just a gorgeously written play. After listening to it again, it is just that – a gorgeously crafted narrative. It has a deft directorial hand throughout but the beginning of any success in radio, has to be, I believe, the words. Here they have great clarity, vision and simplicity, though some do steer into the exposition rather than the emotion of the events. It is, however, fleeting.
Our director, Ben Occhipinti, does not dress them up in audio magic but the soundscape, crafted by Axel Kacoutié and Eloise Whitmore, especially of the unfiltered reports and the noises of the time, often from empty vessels, is enough of a beginning to start the journey. Performances are poised and articulate, reverent of the messages they are intended to convey, they nevertheless do not stint from addressing the possibility of preaching. That they do not steep in the glory of posturing is partly down to the actors believing the work, allowing it to speak and for them to be the beauty and conduit of the message.
For my part I left the audio, more aware, more chastened and perhaps also more determined. If I am able to take any of this and use it, who knows but I shall not forget the experience. Far from spiritual, it was one of those times when I sat for a moment and pondered my own part. Not bad for something I could not attend, could not see but made me listen.