Thursday, August 07, 2014

Testimonial theatre is a funny thing. I've seen a wee bit of it in recent years. A great piece perhaps two years ago about the Australian bush fires. A potentially interesting but less so in person piece maybe last year about oil. 

Deep Cut, however many years back, did a stupendous job of knitting real words into an actual (and gripping) play but it's a feat that's difficult to pull off.

Particularly if you're one small slim Australian woman trying to be children, women and men, young and old, all with the addition (or subtraction) of a headscarf.

I went into SmallWar at the Traverse last week, not knowing it was anything of the kind. It was only when the credits rolled (and that's the only clue I'll give you to the astounding technical wizardry this show serves up) that I realised that this was all genuine real actual people's words. Feeling curiously timeless although some were harvested from centuries long past.

These were testimonials plucked and knitted and woven together from sometimes ancient books of words and other times (presumably) newspapers or blogs, whipped and whisked into a seamless story of war and wishing and love and survival and barely surviving and the cold empty reality of it not working out your way.

Acted brilliantly and pretty much (apparently) effortlessly from incredibly inventive creator Valentijn Dhaenens.

Whereas walking into Forgotten Voices at the Pleasance on Monday, I expected nothing but testimonial theatre. I didn't expect the lines to be lying ready and waiting on the stage (on music stands, in folders) but five seats placed in a semi-circle chimed entirely with my expectations.

Forgotten Voices was a series of books before it became a play, produced by the Imperial War Museum to house themed collections of first-hand accounts of World War One. So I wasn't expecting very much more than extracts from these, perhaps with a little bit of acting thrown in for good measure.

In fact, I was nicely surprised. Actors did just walk on stage, sit and read from their folders. But accompanied with a nicely engineered sound track of pertinent SFX and (in effect) a slide show of paintings by contemporary artists that chimed with some of the content of the speakers' words.

In hindsight, the folders make perfect sense. Alongside the regular actors, we are given "guest artists". I had the pleasure of Robert Vaughn and Julian Sands (not that I knew this till later). And both were very good.

But I confess that I was more touched by the performances of the jobbing actors who'd obviously had longer to familiarise themselves with the text so did less 'reading' and more 'acting'. A trade off, of course, as names get an audience so a smart move on the part of the producers. (And I would rather fancy seeing Celia Imrie play the lovely young lady part later this month.)

Now interestingly, I sobbed as if I were chopping strong onions when I saw the more conventional rendition of testimonial theatre at the Pleasance. I had a small cry but nothing so wet at Mr Dhaenens' show. So it makes me wonder whether, when the words (or the content) deliver a such an emphatic emotional punch, technology and other such fancy trappings help or hinder the story telling. 

Go see for yourself. They're both stunning. 


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