Writer: Rafaella Marcus
Director: Jessica Lazar
The Written on the Waves series by 45North is going from strength to strength in releasing its latest audio drama, Rafaella Marcus’ The You Play: Small Acts, a smart and innovative reworking of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Putting the listener at the centre of the story, this modern adaptation uses the style of mindfulness podcasts to explore our need to be loved even when we have destroyed it.
You have not left your house in weeks; you can’t even look out of the window and showering has become optional. As the narrator discusses your daily routine, you are instructed to imagine the room, taking time to pause and reflect until slowly reality starts to intrude, the sounds of people arguing in the park, of parties and accidents that reawaken memories of what you did and all that you have lost.
Marcus’ new drama is a perfect fit for audio, the intimacy of Katherine Parkinson’s narration is warm and inviting, a supportive friend helping you get back on your feet as Marcus vividly creates the “small acts” that comprise each hour. By putting the listener in the position of the main character and giving specific instructions on how to behave, what to think and what to see, the way in which the drama comes to life and envelops you is fascinating.
The link with The Winter’s Tale is subtle and only if you are familiar with Shakespeare story will you recognise yourself as Leontes regretting his marital state and the loneliness that ensues. To vary the dramatic style across this 45-minute piece, conversations and interactions that may have taken place between the couple are told in dialogue, temporarily drawing attention away from the narrator’s voice while merging the past and current events with people seen in the park across the road, performed by Rebecca Banatvala, Jonathan Case, Amber James, Daisy Lewis, Ken Nwosu and Boadicea Ricketts.
But Marcus’ interest is broader than Shakespeare, and The You Play: Small Acts also interpolates fairy stories that contextualise Leontes tale with our fascination for kings and magic. There is the story of The Wild Swans, of the Fisher King and how people look to magical solutions to solve their problems. This is rich and layered storytelling that becomes darker as the piece unfolds.
Sound designer Dinah Mullen uses a variety of techniques across the show to enhance what we hear, playing with muffled effects, a 3D microphone that moves the sound around you as well as creating a series of audio prompts to conjure the sounds of the outside world. The ways in which Mullen’s methods and Parkinson’s delivery work together are particularly enjoyable, varying the pace and intensity to inflame your paranoia, unsettling the listener as the voice in our ear becomes simultaneously supportive and judgemental, an external guiding force and an internal prick of conscience.
Having spent some time building a slow sense of disturbance, the final moments prove more hopeful and resolve perhaps more quickly than they should, but Marcus has created such a technically adept piece of writing for this medium, drawing the listener into the story as the protagonist while relying on your ability to imagine scenes, smells and sounds. It makes The You Play: Smalls Acts more than a fine tribute to The Winter’s Tale: it is a unique and intricate audio experience.