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Letters: Kwame Owusu and Francesca Henry – The Gate, Zoom

Reviewer: Eve Newstead

Directors: Nina Bowers, Yasmin Hafesji, Hannah Ringham, Moi Tran, and Ellen McDougall.

The apparent teething issues hindering the Gate’s Letters are, unfortunately, still as prevalent on night three. Like the first two in the series, the third show proffers intimate and moving moments but they are undercut by disorder and redundant clowning.

Letters, performed via Zoom, is an imaginative yet straightforward concept of co-directors Nina Bowers, Yasmin Hafesji, Hannah Ringham and Moi Tran, who are dedicated to creating meaningful art under the limited circumstances. Back in the hellish heart of lockdown, theatre creatives were paired up and asked to write letters to one another from isolation. In episode three, Kwame Owusu and Francesca Henry read their letters for the first time – aloud, to each other and the audience.

Letter writing is a beautiful, dwindling art form and its revival by Gate is an exciting prospect. Nevertheless, at the core of letter writing is privacy and intimacy; thoughts and feelings are sealed and sent to a special recipient. Would we write the same, or reveal as much, if we knew the words were going to be spoken back to us in front of an audience’s gaze? Perhaps not. Considering this, Letters, although spontaneous and unacted, somewhat lacks genuineness.

Having said this, Owusu and Henry are open and relatable, referencing everything from knitting, to part-time work and even finding Zoom calls “very stressful.” The show certainly reassures the audience that we are all in this together, and behind closed doors are living out a similarly tiresome lockdown. In particular, the poetry readings were thought-provoking and hopeful. Both participants chose pertinent poems and provided insightful explanations for their choices.

Alike the previous two shows, the prop box was an unnecessary distraction and the moments of silence created by it were long and slow. Additionally, the authenticity of reading the letters for the first time is a wonderful in concept, but there were too many difficulties with Owusu’s reading of Henry’s handwriting. The show kept being interrupted and the significance of the words lost.

Hopefully, as the series continues Letters is reformed and runs smoothly, foregrounding its inspiring demonstration of the possibility of connection between people in these isolated times.

Runs here until 20 October 2020

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Slow and Disordered

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