“As people we want to make real connections with audiences”, may seem like an empty statement used to fill up the beckoning bio; but for Tangram Theatre it really rings true. James Rowland’s stand-up-esque delivery of his engaging, but thoroughly down-to-earth script definitely connects with this audience.
Boy meets a girl and not so easy love story ensues-pretty recognisable-but maybe this formula is so brilliant just because of that. As Rowland asks the audience to close their eyes and picture this unnamed girl, to name her themselves, each of us projects our own memories onto the story, making each subsequent heartbreak more poignant.
Rowland’s creation process begins with a spoken rather than scripted piece-improvised storytelling to be refined later-and this really influences the end performance, giving this unwavering sense of free energy. He exuberantly takes claim of the space, rolling off fast-paced visual descriptions of locations and equally comfortable to remain grounded in stillness. This comfort at being so exposed, especially within a solo, self-written production, is a rare joy.
It’s becoming a common characteristic of studio spaces to have audiences enter into the world of the play, having the actors already on stage. But rather than stepping into the play, we step into a strange hybrid of reality, aware that we are in the audience’s designated area and yet provided with an actor who himself admits-as he finishes of his banana, and parades his frustratingly odd socks- “I’m just making it weird for you”. We then have a sort of welcome, reminiscent of, as someone ‘whispered’ behind me, James Cordon’s chat show. Even once within the play and with the awareness that ‘none of this is true’, the fourth wall is never constructed; there is eye-contact throughout, audience interaction, even a slight diversion from the plot in order to inform us of an unfortunate rip in the crotch area which occurred moments before the hypothetical curtain-up. The audience become as much a part of this production as the characters and it then feels like our story, our lives. It is no surprise to me that this production won VAULT Festival’s best show award in 2017.
Some inventive visual expressions of emotions and human identity are captured in this production, in the strangest manner: the burning of a match to its charcoal end showing the gradual decline of a relationship; the emptying of a whole bottle of water over his head expressing the enjoyment of the moment morphing into the regret of his future self. This was much more emotive than my words can convey, while also being extremely funny, as the puddle slowly expands from the water seeping down the trouser legs, which Rowland invited us all to watch, for a pretty long time.
This production may not have had a challenging social message or the impact of a huge-body of actors, but it brings theatre back to the heart of storytelling. Being the second of a trilogy, I encourage anyone to watch out for Revelations and hopefully of the combined set touring in the future.
A Hundred Different Words for Love played at Bristol Tobacco Factory Theatres until January 31. It is now touring. For more information and tickets, see the Tobacco Factory Theatres website.