Caridad Svich, (prod) Blythe Haynes, Kendra Jones
Impel Theatre Canada/Oldham Coliseum
Streaming May 6 (live), then recorded May 7-17: 90min
Over the past year or so many of us have gathered over Zoom to chat, work things out, collaborate and have fun. In An Acorn, then, is the world as we currently perceive it.
Oldham Coliseum has been pioneering these little evolutions in theatre (admittedly like others) for some time, but rarely can there have been such unlikely bedfellows as this quaint, venerable Oldham theatre and live transAtlantic video communication with Canada – let alone for the purpose of broadcasting what amounts to stream of consciousness dialogue.
An Acorn is similarly at odds with itself: what 10 years ago would have been an extraordinary technical achievement is today conjured up for anyone, courtesy of an American mega-company and the internet, and we look on, God-like, from the comfort of our sofa while two people in Toronto – Blythe Haynes and Ryan G Hinds of Canada’s Impel Theatre – and two in Oldham – Mina Anwar and Darren Jeffries – perform into the void, hoping someone is out there listening.
The experience is even more unnerving for the two locals, presumably, because while the Canadians have clearly rehearsed the hell out of the piece, the Oldham pair have been dropped into it White Rabbit, Red Rabbit-style, without rehearsal. This seems to be for no more reason than a spirit of adventure, since it adds little or nothing to the experience except perhaps to mirror the weirdness of daily life in 2020.
So yes, it shows that the Oldhamers mostly read it, but I’m not sure it matters: this is one of those events (the first performance, on Thursday, was live and remarkably hitch free; the rest of the run is the recording), since acting doesn’t really much come into it, and when it does it’s more close-up screen acting than stage performance, since we are effectively only three feet from the quartet, and less is more.
So much for the technicalities: the show itself is something of a slight let-down after the technological build-up. Writer Caridad Svich builds a world of fragmentary monologues, about oceans, huts, acorns, politics, coronavirus, childhood memories and much more, as she and the performers, in isolation over 3,000 miles apart, try to make some sense of isolation, anger, frustration and the thousand natural highs ands lows that pandemic flesh is heir to.
Curiously, (or perhaps in playing safe technically), the four perform not one piece but four, in parallel. There is no dialogue, only monologue, and at first the four make very little reference to each other in their individual quarters of our screens. But as the work proceeds the characters, while still failing to engage with each other, do begin to make the tail end of one memory segue into that of the next speaker.
The result of all this is a barrage of chat, some interesting, some with little point and none of it with coherent information we can hold on to. At various points the characters say they are going to tell us a story, then singularly fail to do so. It could get annoying but by this point we’ve come to expect little in the way of a tale.
And that is probably the point: if the last year or so has shown us anything, it’s that we’ve got together online to talk a lot, but that we haven’t made much sense of the events going on around us.
Information and booking here