As this exciting online festival draws to a close, I’m pleased I caught this forty minute monologue written and performed by Skye Hallam. Like my other recommendations, Heads or Tails is an easy to praise four star show.
Hallam’s scenario is simple; her character Steph is a young woman visiting earth after her death. The achievement is to tackle the subject matter without being morbid. The jokes are good and the asides to camera sweet. The piece is funny and charming as well as thought-provoking.
As Steph dishes “insider knowledge” about the afterlife, plenty of topics are touched on. Idiosyncratic ideas about God (her name is Helen) and heaven are full of whimsy. Far from coherent, indeed occasionally rambling, I did wonder if Steph could be more confused about her trip back to earth. But Hallam has written a vivid character whose enthusiasm is contagious and performs her creation with endearing style.
Of course, it is what Heads or Tails tells us about life that’s really interesting. Here the effective characterisation works well. Try as we might to avoid that ‘M’(illennial) word, Hallam has sketched an interesting portrait of a demographic. Steph becomes an effective study: full of anxiety, checking her privilege, “outsourcing” her mental health and ever conscious of social media likes.
Steph’s concerns add an edge to the show that ensures we pause for thought. She may try to reassure us about heaven but how happy was she on earth? There’s clearly plenty of scope for elaboration. It’s easy to see how Hallam could flesh out Steph (her life and her generation) further so that this show’s theatrical afterlife surely has potential.
This online event for digital arts boasts over forty original productions. There’s poetry, music and comedy on offer. And many shows are hosted ‘on demand’, so they can be enjoyed at any time. With a focus on audio dramas and storytelling, here are four that took my fancy.
This is an audio monologue, with effective percussive accompaniment, from theatre company Nod At The Fox. An “experiment” is the claim, but easy going comedy and smart reflections on life make it whimsical and charming.
Our narrator, Eden Harbud, discusses his relationship with reality as if it were a romance! Bearing in mind the corona virus lockdown, the pressing question is whether reality has left for good or will it BRB?
It’s easy to connect to these lockdown experiences – lots of tea and tiredness. The writing shows plenty of imagination and comforting touches, even as the New Normal arrives. Any “reassuring” thoughts offered in this wise and gentle piece are gratefully received right now.
Skipped tracks on a CD player make an effective device to present a collection of poetry, written and performed by Leanne Moden. A love of music and nights out on the town are evoked in glorious detail: I won’t think about cigarette lighters in the same way again.
The poems share the theme of youth. And it’s nice to encounter coming of age vignettes that show teenage confidence. The girls here, sometimes, feel like royalty. Why shouldn’t they?
There’s violence as well – recognisable from small town life. But with the help of some judicious humour, the energy of Moden’s verse propels us to positivity. Teenage years are described as “a rare bootleg import EP”: the argument and delivery here is brilliant.
Moden wants to “remember everything” (those details again) and since access to any show purchased is for 24 hours, you can attend this “listening party” more than once.
Here’s a psychological thriller that’s a high quality, traditional affair. Some meta-speculation around the genre of radio drama is clever enough. Better still, the plot has a neat twist worthy of golden age detection fiction.
Ella Dorman-Gajic and Cameron Essam write and perform in the piece and impress on both counts. The script is sharp, aided by Essam’s direction, and believable characters are quickly established.
While the writers take the subject of domestic abuse seriously, and the piece is frightening, there’s a mystery within On Record that is superbly entertaining. Without spoilers, let your suspicions run wild and you should enjoy this half hour immensely.
Tom Thornton’s drama is aptly named; it’s a fifty-minute show that wavers between examining a young man’s personal trauma and a dystopian sci-fi with a touch of mystery story too. Playing with expectations, sincerity and a surreal twist are not easy to combine, but Thornton unites them admirably.
An exciting big idea first. An “unprecedented change in human evolution” results in our internal dialogue being heard aloud! What a great idea for an audio play. It made me think about the work of psychologist Julian Jaynes. It’s a shame the notion isn’t developed and that the subsequent dystopia is less original. Touches of humour help but we still end up, predictably, with a “God like digital behemoth”.
When it comes to the telling of the story, Thornton is excellent. Our narrator is engaging and intriguing, while tragic events and an urgent desire for control generate sympathy. You might even suggest the experiences of this young man, for whom life is “twiddling its thumbs”, is a dystopia of a different kind.
Four stars for all
More audio plays are available. And there are filmed productions too: Skye Hallam’s Heads or Tails and Ram of God by Theodora van der Beek being two examples. Although this is a small selection of what’s on offer at The Living Record Festival, it seems safe to have faith in creative director Ross Drury and search out further treats.