Writers: Nina Bowers and Hannah Ringham
Director: Nina Bowers, Hannah Ringham, Yasmin Hafesji and Moi Tran
The Gate Theatre have reached the end of its Letters series and in this final edition original correspondents and co-directors Nina Bowers and Hannah Ringham reconnect by reading another lockdown letter and undertaking various related activities. It is disappointing, however, that 10 episodes on and very little has changed, lessening the impact of meaningful letters with chicanery and technical issues.
The 30-minute show opens with the promise of something new, a chance for the audience to join in, but this happens only briefly when asked to show cards to the camera. Most of the early part of the show involves Ringham and Bowers holding up cards for us to read, but, as with their earlier show, these are difficult to scan in the tiny Gallery View boxes on Zoom as the main screen is filled with the ‘Gate Theatre Technical’ screen card.
Almost a third of the show is devoted to this large black screen, while the performers dance, draw chalk pictures, poke plastic roses into the lens and hold up even more cards the audience cannot really see. It makes for frustrating viewing and a handful of audience members switch on their cameras to join in, yet it is only the letters themselves that really mean anything.
First Ringham reads a letter from Bowers written on a Sunday in July, a moment where some of the restrictions of lockdown were beginning to ease and she can hear the growing traffic on the North Circular, wondering where everyone is heading and longing to go back into the world to visit a gallery, a café or a charity shop. The frustrations feel vivid, explaining ‘I feel like the image of everyone in squares has been tattooed on my brain’ and finds writing is her only escape. It is meaningful and honest and exactly what this show should be about.
When Bower reads Ringham’s letter it does raise a question about the show’s key concept; ‘Neither knows what their letters contain’ the website states but Ringham’s letter of 22 June references content in her Bower’s earlier correspondence – surely not the 22 May letters they were supposed to read for the first time in the Episode One or in the additional Episode Six of Letters in September?
But otherwise Ringham’s letter – which remained unposted and was expanded on 2 July – is just as meaningful talking about watching Frasier and spending time with her mother, as well as feeling connections to the ancient woodlands nearby, a way to put the summer’s events into some kind of perspective.
As a concept Letters had so many possibilities only some of which this series fulfilled, the expanded concept with the tangential additional activities and dressing-up never quite worked but the exchange of letters is an all but lost art, and it is great to see the Gate Theatre encouraging its revival.