Mum. Can You Hear Me? – Living Record Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Bernadett Szabo

Director: Adam Cachia

 The last moments of the voiceless is the subject of Bernadett Szabo’s new audio drama for The Living Records Festival, dramatising the experience of a group of refugees in the back of a refrigerated truck and told from the perspective of a single young woman. This empathetic drama uses the unfolding journey to explore the physical experience as their bodies and minds are lost to the unbearable conditions.

Waiting in the dark in the back of a truck with 38 strangers, the narrator is starting to feel the cold, so her mind begins to wander, thinking about the people around her and the length of the journey ahead. But mostly she thinks about her mother and a conversation begins, recalling happier days, possibilities for the future and what she is prepared to sacrifice for love.

Szabo’s 37-minute audio drama is full of compassion for the people who risk it all to be closer to their families. Opening with real overlapping news reports about 39 bodies found inside a lorry stopped in Essex, it sets the scene for this intimate, almost poetic monologue in which the unnamed narrator conjures up the cramped confines of the truck with its visceral smell and array of faces at close confines.

Szabo’s writing is vivid, reflecting the deteriorating condition of the speaker by using broken sentences, repetition and slow-paced speech. Initially, the character sounds as though she is returning to consciousness, confused and hesitant as she tries to construct sentences and process her surroundings.

Throughout the piece, the focus of Szabo’s character slips between her physical discomfort as the cold causes her voice to quiver and her speech to focus on the aches in her body, and the weariness that overcomes her. Later as the disjointed conversation with her mother becomes more ethereal, the protagonist’s speech is increasingly delirious as words arrive more randomly and in a feverish style. The control of these two contrasting but fluid states of being is one of the audio drama’s most engaging qualities.

Performer Alex Douglas gives the narrative a haunted, ghostly quality reflecting the character’s position between life and death while emphasising the overwhelming love for family that shapes the conversations with her mother. The warmth of that relationship and its centrality to this experience is contrasted by her fear that her family sacrifice will be forgotten, a feeling that Douglas captures in her immersive vocal.

Alecia Maddox’s otherworldly mother treads a line between reality and fantasy, allowing the listener to wonder at various points whether these interactions are memory or illusion, even a manifestation of grief that adds additional layers of complexity to Szabo’s story. All of this is underscored by Aron Gyenge’s soundscape which mixes the airy sounds of a motorway rushing by with gentle piano music as well as scratches and scrapes as the danger increases.

Mum. Can You Hear Me? is a story about love, what people will risk to be with their families and how rarely their voices are heard. Referred to throughout merely as ‘they’ and ‘them’, the deliberately indistinct inhabitants of the truck, not even know to each other, is this drama’s real point. Szabo’s message is clear – ‘please hear them, please hear me’.

Runs here until 23 February

The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to 22 February 

The Reviews Hub Score

Empathetic drama

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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