This is my second week of watching Letters, quite the staple of a Monday evening. I nestle in with a cup of tea and watch the clock tick down from fifteen minutes towards the start time.
Chris Thorpe and Kayla Meikle appear on screen and, after some jazzy music, opt for some red lipstick, sunglasses and a black hat, respectively – both are working the red lip. Communicating through notes on coloured cards they share their emotions with their virtual audience: She writes “I feel like dancing baby”, and he pens “ I feel like wearing a costume I can see through”.
All jokes aside, this week’s letters are particularly moving. Chris shares that on the day he wrote his first letter, it was five years to the day since he lost one of his best friends. He shares memories of her as a person full of life, vivacity and talent: “She made tattoos that looked like they were leaping off people”. Listening to his thoughts, read aloud months later, there is a profound sense of calm that accompanies his words. I feel that his friend would like this dedication. “I am even dressed like her”, he notes, in his sunglasses and statement red lip.
Kayla reflects on her growth and transition from young-adult into a woman, as the strings of youth have now been cut. In the quiet of a lockdown, amidst the pandemic, their letters are a stream of consciousness describing a past world outside these boxes we currently inhabit.
The structured sections remain the same in each iteration of Letters, but their nuance and novelty comes from the range of performers. Our performers, again, draw one another. Kayla says “I look like a witch – I love it”. Chris voices that there’s “a touch of Van Gogh” in Kayla’s likeness of him. In addition to this, both also share their poems of lockdown featuring Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Dawn of Darkness and a snippet of Black Unicorn by Audre Lorne. I adore poetry, so it’s always exciting to hear work that is new to me, especially when it means a great deal to someone else.
I’m always interested in my reflections on theatre compared with those of others, so I look back at last week’s reviews of Letters. Some criticism levelled at these performances say ‘the medium of zoom is awkward’ – I agree, but that is its charm. Moments of quiet and inaction are the reality of the sharing of letters between two people; do not expect long monologues that flow perfectly and have intense significance. Some art is glossy, polished and refined. Some art is stilted, awkward, and raw – there is magic in them both. The joy of Letters, for me, is the insight into other’s lives, and the escape in such atomised times from my own head and experiences.
Do I think I would like to watch every single one of these performances? Probably not. But, once a week this insight into other’s lives and thoughts is a welcome and thought-provoking respite from the boundaries of my lived experience.
Letters is showing every Monday until 7 October and tickets are available on the Gate Theatre’s Website.