A Secret Life
Baseless Fabric Theatre
From 10 May 2016 to 14 May 2016
Review by Mary Mazzilli
The use of technology and social media is in some cases a welcome addition to live performance. This is a trend that is here to stay and that won’t easily subside. In some cases this is not a bad thing even when it changes how we experience live performative events.
As part of the Wandsworth Fringe Festival, Baseless Fabric Theatre chose to add the digital medium to promenade and storytelling. The audience are asked to download an app on their own smartphones prior to their visit. This is because the app is used, during the promenade, to listen to the audio streaming as a small group of fifteen follows a lady with a walking stick, Audry (Maggie Turner), through Battersea Park, the park itself and its residential areas.
Blessed by good weather, this cannot be but an idyllic and relaxing experience discovering this part of town, gently accompanied by the soothing voices of Audry, the woman that leads the way, and of Fred (David Whitworth), allegedly her husband, who is never seen but only heard in the recording.
The two are not really talking to each other. Engaged in narrative monologues, they are, instead, reminiscing their past together and apart, their childhood and adolescence in post-war London, a London very different from what the audience walks through now. Interviewing groups of young people and elderly people aged 65+, Tamara Micner, the writer of this piece, opted for an elderly character to explore how different or not it was like growing up in the post-war years.
It is mainly Audry’s story that we listen to as she pauses in a pensive mood in front of a hair-saloon, an anonymous street-corner, a phone booth etc. Much work has been put into pacing the audio streaming to Audry’s relaxed walk so that as the narrator talks about a hair-saloon we are actually standing in front of one, and so and so forth.
As the audience is soon to discover, it is mainly Audry’s tale and Fred, the feeble invisible character, disappears in oblivion soon enough.
As the narrative develops between Audry’s present as a grandmother and her past, missing visual stimuli in this long promenade, and lulled by a sweet, yet at times monotonous, narration, there is less to hang on to than one would expect. No big surprises, nor major dramatic moments.
Suddenly, after a hour or so, as the group of wanderers reaches its destination, first Battersea Park station and then a nearby pub, Ruby (Phoebe McIntosh), Audry’s granddaughter, is introduced. And the promenade and storytelling come to an end as the two are seen interacting by the audience, who listen to their dialogues in a corner of the pub, still through the audio of the app.
The two actresses mime and talk almost synchronically to the audio. While this is a clever mediated theatrical devise, the distancing effect adds to alienation that has been throughout part of this event’s experience.
It comes partially down to the simplistic premise of the this project—walking around with a bit of audio streaming seems a good enough premise to make theatre—partially down to the script and acting itself, more audiobook than heartfelt drama, and above the missed opportunity here to add a bit more ‘meat’ for he participants to chew on during the promenade experience. Why is the audience even asked to walk through these places? Is this even the side of London where the characters grew up?
It is to admire that companies like Baseless Fabric are exploring new ways of making theatre and one cannot totally dismiss the fact that Audry’s tale has the charm of a long-lost past that is as nostalgic as it is bitter. But if an app and audio streaming are the start and the end of a theatrical event, the audience might as well choose their own audiobook to listen to and go on for a wander on their own.