Writer: Nick Walker
Director; Nicholas Pitt
No Stone Theatre’s description of its podcast series does Seeds no favours. It’s billed as a true story about the world’s first seed bank in St Petersburg and this suggests that the eight episodes will be full of botanical details that would be too dry and academic for the average listener. But Seeds is not that kind of educational podcast; instead Seeds is a gripping thriller with two exciting narratives.
The first story appears to be set in the present day. A woman wakes up in hospital, bruised and bloody, attached to a drip, and no memory of her life before. Sensing that she needs to be somewhere else, she takes advantage of the fire that is burning in another part of the city, and escapes into the night air. Here some people wear facemasks as she boards a tram that hurtles through St Petersburg. Her movements are governed by an unconscious automatic pilot that she trusts will take her to where she needs to be.
The other story takes place in the same city but here it is known as Leningrad. The year is 1941, and Leningrad has been under siege for 100 days. One worker in the Institute of Plant Industry suggests that civil unrest is only three meals away, and all the staff prepare to pack up the seeds, collected from around the world, to take them to safer spaces until the war is ended. But already, there are people banging on the windows demanding to be let in.
Over the episodes, each around 20 minutes in length, the two narratives begin to collapse in on each other in the most dramatic ways. As the escaped patient, Nina Sosanya is suitably paranoid as woman who has lost her memory, and she also does well to vary the tones of her sentences which all begin in with ‘This is the…’ This conceit would become tiring if it wasn’t for Sosanya bringing nuance and explicitness to each of her lines.
Playing a newcomer to the seed bank is Kirsty Rider, and we see the specimen trays and the rooms devoted to each country through her eyes, full of wonder at the seeds stored there in case the world sees future famines. However, is Zasha as innocent as she looks? Rider keeps the listener guessing. Her colleagues are played by Katy Stephens, Graeme Rose and Jordon Kemp, all of whom add more mystery to the proceedings.
Adding to the tension is the sound design by Jon Ouin, and listening, as recommended, through headphones Seeds is a dynamic aural experience taking us to busy hospitals and cavernous chambers where you can almost hear ice particles forming in the breath of the characters. Zasha refers to her past as a musician, and there cascading in the background are strings tuning up for a concert, not quite disappearing entirely even after she changes the subject.
Addictive and thrilling, this true story written by Nick Walker is a perfect antidote to Christmas and we can only hope that No Stone Theatre has more shows planned for the New Year. Seeds is the result of a very fertile soil.
Available here and on most podcast platforms