For her new show, Then (playing at The Vaults until 1 March), Yve Blake turned to the internet for inspiration. Creating a website where people could anonymously leave messages about their past selves – who they used to be, who they used to want to be, the moment everything changed for them – Blake collected these stories and composed a piece that offers an incredibly humorous, touching and worthwhile hour’s viewing.
Using titbits of people’s lives from all over the world, Blake puts her formidable song-writing skills to use to create an energetic and eclectic show. Then journeys in song from people’s fun, sometimes ridiculous and absurd childhood dreams, through tough teenage years and the horror of realising you’ve reached 40, to the touching relationship of a child caring for their elderly parent – the latter a beautiful song that completes the life-cycle arc of the show, which Blake articulates so interestingly and sensitively throughout. And while the show highlights how many of us are united by the same worries, the same dreams and the same regrets, the diversity of the voices that Blake has collated equally highlights the amazing uniqueness that colours each of our experiences and perspectives, meaning there is never a dull moment from start to finish.
Not only are Blake’s lyrics tight, witty and full of verve, accompanied by an enviable singing voice, but Alex Groves’s musical direction and Naomi Kuyck Cohen’s design complement Blake’s performance perfectly, to make the show as stunning visually as it is aurally. While Blake holds the stage for the full hour with a magnetic presence and her loveable, quirky story-telling style, it’s clear that Then is a result of the collaboration of a strong artistic team, as well as a result of the generosity of the public who shared their stories, making it a truly special event.
Some brilliant moments in Then arise from Blake’s inclusion of messages left by internet ‘trolls’. This simultaneously highlights a sense of humble self-consciousness – that her work might not be for all tastes – as well as the ever pertinent issue of the internet being as much a forum for scorn as it is for sharing, with people only willing to show their true selves when hid behind a protective computer screen. As a result the show is nuanced, balanced and humorous, where it might easily have slid into overt sentimentality given the influx of poignant and personal messages that Blake had to sift through when writing the show.
Then cannot be defined by a singular genre, with its mixture of performance art, verbatim theatre, story-telling, song and dance, as well as magnificent projections (by Joel Enfield and Rosa Nussbaum) – though at the same time it remains utterly cohesive. With so much to offer, it ought to be seen by a wide audience as it has something for everyone – indeed, for anyone who has ever thought about themselves back ‘then’, and who they are now, and maybe thought they were alone in doing so.
Then is playing at the VAULT Festival (Waterloo Vaults) until 1 March. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.