Most of the theatre I’ve encountered during lockdown has been claustrophobic to some extent, with filming often taking place within creatives’ homes. Danni the Champion thematically adheres to that mould but stylistically rips it apart.
For the titular character of Danni (played by Francesca Taylor-Coleman in her professional debut), life is a claustrophobic experience, growing up on the Isle of Lewis, with passive-aggressive parents and a brother who’s only real use is as a taxi, her escape comes from watching drag races at the airport.
But for a viewer, Danni’s experience is shown to us through an explosion of images and settings. We move through Danni’s bedroom, the ferry port, the harbour, the chip shop, and frantic journeys by car. It infuses the short with a constant movement and energy, familiar to any teen itching to spread their wings. In many ways, Danni the Champion is more cinematic than theatrical, with its rapid cuts and non-diegetic sound. This may reflect on director, Laura Cameron-Lewis, who has recently transitioned into more TV and film work. But to dismiss it as non-theatrical would be unfair. Cameron-Lewis expertly balances the cinematic elements with an elegiac tone that is far more grounded in theatre.
This fragmentary nature is born from the wonderful script by Iain Finley Macleod. Danni’s monologue to us is pure stream-of-consciousness, flitting between her everyday conversations, deepest desires, and ruminations on Lynyrd Skynyrd. Despite the rapidness of Danni the Champion, it is able to use the intimacy of monologue to build a comprehensive picture of Danni, as well as the Isle of Lewis, and the differences between them.
This stream-of-consciousness can make the work feel relentless and confusing, but no more confusing than it is to be a teenager growing up in a place that doesn’t allow you to express yourself. If the cast of characters that Danni refers to becomes difficult to follow, the theme of the story isn’t: a young person trying to configure the place they live into a home that suits them.
Another key element of the script is the mingling of English language and Gaelic, a fitting tribute to the indigenous Gaelic culture of the island. As Cameron-Lewis notes: ‘this is a powerful antidote to the stereotyping of places outside the city’. This adds a beautiful authenticity to the piece, and highlights how Danni is simultaneously rooted in the island and its history, while she is also raging against the sensibilities that she has grown up with, and, fortunately for sassenachs like myself, the Gaelic language is translated for the audience in a way that does not interrupt or distract from the short.
Danni the Champion is evidence of what can be produced when all members of the creative team are firing. The writing is absolutely sparkling and challenging and the direction does an immense job of adapting to the difficulties the script provokes; maintaining the theatricality whilst embracing the benefits that technology can bring to a story like this. Finally, a brave and fun performance from Taylor-Coleman caps off an absolute showcase for lockdown theatre.
Danni the Champion ca be viewed on the National Theatre of Scotland’s website.