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Amy Townsend-Lowcock’s multimedia show My Fruits takes place on the main stage at HOME in Manchester. Literally. A dozen audience members are seated on the darkened stage at a table with screens at either end. One screen shows events in the main narrative while the other occasionally features an actor articulating the thoughts and experiences of the individuals.
My Fruits is based upon interviews with members of Townsend-Lowcock’s family about their experiences as the first black family to move onto a Manchester housing estate in the 1970s. Abuse and harassment is endured not just at home but also at school, and from teachers as much as fellow pupils. The effect is to prompt the family to become self-contained and blend into the background to avoid conflict.
In the ‘main’ film, the family are represented by pieces of fruit—the Banana and Orange being the parents and the children Apple, Plum, Pear, Grapes, Lime and Mango. Mango is the oldest sister but last to join the family in the UK and unaware, until so doing, that her parents had had another five children while waiting for her to make the journey. But then the other children were unaware they had an older sister. This potentially dramatic development is not explored as My Fruits concentrates on the abuse suffered by the family. This, while harrowing, is hardly unique and similar examples have already featured in works such as television’s Small Axe.
The films are not recorded but created live in the theatre and broadcast onto the screens using closed-circuit cameras. As the story unfolds, pieces of fruit representing the family and rocks serving as non-family members of the community or the buildings on the estate are manipulated around a table and the filmed images projected onto the screen. Audience members of a certain age may find the effect reminiscent of cheap and cheerful children’s TV programmes like Playschool where stories were told using basic materials as visual aids.
The thoughts of individual characters are articulated live by an actor concealed on stage and whose image is projected onto the alternate screen. Yet the audience listens to both her spoken performance and the main narration through headphones. One assumes the main narration is recorded as otherwise it is hard to determine the purpose of the headphones (they do not, for example generate sound effects) unless intended to create a sense of isolation for the audience—cutting them off from other patrons as an aid to concentration. There are distinct styles to the two narratives—the experiences of the family are told in a prosaic manner as if sharing tales in a pub and not wanting to be too sensational, while the more personal revelations have a heartfelt, moving quality.
The main story is followed by a coda featuring recordings of the actual interviewees telling their stories. It makes for a warm conclusion but, as the stories are being heard for the second time in only a few minutes, does not seem essential.
My Fruits is a curiosity, not as original as might have been imagined and has features, such as the headphones, which are a distraction from, as much as an aid to, the storytelling.
Reviewer: David Cunningham