Director: Vicki Baron
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Thinking about where you might be a year from now used to be such an optimistic thing to do – the people you might meet, the places you could go, who you might be in 12 months’ time – and that’s because humans think largely in progressive terms. But in the last 6 months fears awakened by Brexit and the most controversial American President of the modern era, where we could be this time next year is a scary thought.
Sticking with the optimistic approach, RedBellyBlack Theatre Company has interviewed 14 different people asking them to think about their recent lives and where they think they’ll be a year from now. Linking old and young, children, parents, those who have survived serious illness with those who don’t know what to do with their lives, this collection of stories is varied and ambitious.
The theatre-angle uses snippets of these interviews played over a sound system as a group of five actors mouth the words while also ‘acting’ the sentences using movement and physical theatre while breaks are signified by a variety of dance, clowning and choreographed sections that are supposed to mean something, although it’s not always clear what that is.
The intentions are clearly good and a great deal of thought has gone into the preparation of A Year From Now conducting the interviews and trying to find a way to communicate their messages as widely as possible. But the concept RedBellyBlack has chosen just doesn’t quite sit right and their attempt to dramatise the life of the speaker is distracting, occasionally irrelevant and at times even trivialises or undermines what the interviewee is saying.
For example, early on, we hear from two elderly people talking about their age and some of their experiences so far. There’s plenty of wit and charm in their voices, but the man’s story is acted by Clementine Mills, while the woman is impersonated by Oscar Scott-White and this gender-swapping approach and the fairly clichéd depiction of an OAP draws a few laughs from the audience. But this seems to undercut the purpose of the show because the viewer isn’t properly listening and understanding someone else’s perspective, they’re laughing at a young girl doing an impression of an old man.
The same thing happens when Scott-White takes on the persona of a teenage girl who worries about having perfect eyebrows and the development of her body because she may be bullied about it at school which again trivialises the importance of a difficult time for this girl because the audience is laughing at the actor. On some monologues, the approach works fairly well, including a comedian who lost his mother performed by two of the cast, which reinforces rather than detracts from what he’s saying but on the whole the one-size-fits-all formula is questionable.
This approach also becomes remarkably unvarying during the one hour show and while the cast – which also includes Kate Goodfellow, Christopher Montague and Jessica Warshaw – have spent time trying to interpret almost every sentence as a movement, it all starts to become rather meaningless and full of unnecessary gurning, despite some pretty insightful monologues. One way to combat this could be to intersperse the mime-along with some acted dialogue or video, giving the cast a chance to inhabit character more fully and perhaps give greater shape to the overarching narrative.
A Year From Now has its heart in the right place but the company needs to think more deeply about how they are presenting the excellent material they have gathered and what reactions they are looking for from the audience. Most importantly whatever they choose to do shouldn’t subvert the speaker’s intentions but celebrate the stories they’ve chosen to share. And then hopefully a year from now, RedBellyBlack’s show will be an important piece of social documentary.
Runs until 29 January 2017| Image: Contributed