Directors: Nina Bowers, Yasmin Hafesji, Hannah Ringham and Moi Tran
Those hoping that the Gate has brought in some changes in its second week of Letters will be disappointed, but now knowing what to expect the show doesn’t seem as uneven as it first was. However, nothing has changed. Touching moments and tender memories of the spring lockdown are still undone with the Gate’s insistence on some fun and games.
Two creatives write letters to each other in May, and now come together on Zoom to read these letters out loud for the first time. Tim Crouch reads Nadia Albina’s short letter. She wrote it one night when everyone had gone to bed. The washing had just been done and the whole house smelled of Lenor. She has little more to say; her letter is very short.
Crouch’s letter is very long in comparison. He describes his flat in Brighton in detail, almost too much detail, but Albina reads beautifully, helped no doubt that Crouch has typed, rather than handwritten, his letter. Towards the end of the epistle, Crouch recalls the first and only time the two met working on a production at the Gate. At this time, Albina told him that she was pregnant and was worried about what was to come. Reading this memory, Albina finds it hard not to cry. It’s a wonderfully intimate moment, unexpected and only possible through this kind of improvised performance.
However, the surprises don’t stop there. They are both staggered to discover that they have both sent over e.e. cummings poems to each other. With cumming’s customary lack of punctuation, the two poems are difficult to recite, but Crouch’s choice, the great advantage of being alive, is a comforting and complex love poem, perfect for today. Both Albina and Crouch seem amazed with the final line: ‘For love are in you am in I are in we’.
If only the two weren’t required to wear the clothes the producers have sent them. Crouch has to wear a shiny wig, a sequinned jacket and a facemask. Albina gets away lightly: she just has to don a hat and a scarf. If only they didn’t have to dance at the end to a song that goes on for too long. If only the letters and the poems were able to speak for themselves; at the moment their power is diluted by the fancy dress and the party games.
It’s almost as though the makers of Letters thought that the show needed an extra layer of theatricality to make up what we lose from not having real face-to-face live performance. But the letters and the poems are quiet dramas in themselves.
Runs here until 7 October 2020