Review: Keep Going Then Vanish, ThickSkin/The Royal Exchange Theatre
4.0Overall Score

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Keep Going Then Vanish is part of the Walk This Play series, created by ThickSkin in association with The Royal Exchange Theatre. Designed to be listened to while walking around a planned route in the city centre of Manchester, it narrates the lives of a rat and a falcon, asking us to view the city from an entirely new perspective. Danielle Henry and Esme Bayley played the parts of a Rat and Falcon, respectively. Both guide us very effectively, whilst Henry’s performance is particularly remarkable as she struggles with her first venture outside without her mother.

Unfortunately, I am not able to listen to the piece in situ, instead walking around my own neighboured in an entirely different city. Although the start of the play describes the theatre and a nearby statue, conjuring up my own memories of Manchester, the majority of the story is entirely transferrable and applicable to my own location, as I walk streets hundreds of miles away. The writer, Jack Nicholls, masterfully intertwines two narratives; one of a rat in search of her mother and one of a falcon, desperate to feed her children. We truly embody the rat as we were told, ‘Your fur is spiky’ and ‘Your long brown tail drags along the ground’. This makes the ending all the more devastating, when the haughty, omniscient falcon chooses our rat as its next target. 

There is quite a lot of repetition in the writing, as we are frequently told to ‘go’ and cross’. Whilst this is perhaps inevitable due to the nature of the piece, I do think that more descriptive language could have been used to add more interest to these simple instructions. However, moments where we are told to ‘sniff the wall’ and think about the ‘pain in your stomach’ are particularly effective as they almost branch into the realm of mindfulness, truly demanding that we pause and take in our environment. One instruction from our rat, telling us to ‘smell where the sky meets the ground’ is really memorable and makes me believe that such a creature is able to appreciate the same environment we inhabit in a beautifully romantic way.

The use of sound, designed by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and Annie May Fletcher is so effective but this left me confused why the rat, one of two narrators, is totally unaccompanied by any background sound. At the end of the play, a breathtaking and evocative soundscape is created, blending together lines of the play and music to remind us of the two journeys our narrators have taken us on. It was at this moment that I realised the power of this format — I am standing alone on a street, entirely immersed in the story. Whilst Zoom shows and other virtual performance methods may fall short in replacing live theatre, this audio walking experience is entirely innovative and I hope to enjoy more of its kind in the future.

Keep Going Then Vanish, part of the Walk This Play series, is available to listen to via the Echoes app until the 19 October 2021. For more information and tickets, see ThickSkin Theatre online.