Writer: Tom Thornton
Tom Thornton’s smart audio monologue about a dystopian world where people can hear your thoughts is also an examination of a life not lived. The narrator – let’s call him Tom – does everything that’s required of him; he does well at school, goes to university, gets a good job and meets an amazing girlfriend. But this comfortable dull life isn’t what Tom signed up for. Dystopia comes as a relief.
Shifting Sands is advertised as a satire on the Living Record Festival website, but the 50-minute drama begins more sincerely. Some disaster has befallen the earth, and people are advised to stay in. It seems that Tom is referring to our current crisis, but when he discusses how newscaster Huw Edwards, now employed by the Government, delivers the news to the nation it’s clear that The Event is based more on science fiction than on a virus. Edwards mouths ‘ donkey boner’ to the viewers before he comes off air while Donald Trump shoots himself in the White House.
But if Thornton’s tale begins to resemble the horror film Village of the Damned based on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos in which children can read the minds of adults, then the similarities are short-lived. Instead Thornton side-steps the eavesdropping of thoughts to tell us about another Event that has changed his life. This one is again horrific, but not in a sci-fi way; the story of him looking after a child seems influenced by Simon Stephens’s masterful monologue Sea Wall.
It’s only really when Tom gets to the Isle of Man working for the global corporation Monolith that Shifting Sands becomes satirical, and here it becomes more obvious that Thornton is talking about coronavirus after all. The fact that the story twists and turns ensures that its end is unknowable, and yet Thornton’s tale is never messy, and his presentation, economically made with just a few other voices and some choice slices of music, draws in the listener so that minutes fly by. He’s an excellent raconteur.
With some dashes of Carry On Spying and The Go-Between, Thornton’s clever tale continues in a world very much like ours. The end may delight some anti-vaxxers, but perhaps it’s those people Thornton is satirising. Maybe not. After all, the conclusion isn’t that far fetched. Some would say that we’re already there.
Runs here until 22 February 2021
The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to the 22 February 2021