A paper clock ticks down. 10 minutes to go. The backing music is upbeat and cheerful.
Our two performers come on screen, Hannah Ringham and Nina Bowers, also the two co-directors of this performance. Letters is a series of digital performances produced by the Gate Theatre that invites performers to write personal letters to their friends across the country.
Each performer has a set of unopened letters from the other. Our first today is from the start of May. Nina’s letter to Hannah summarises all of our feelings two months into lockdown: “I feel so angry”. Reflecting on these past emotions we are transported to a time with less freedom, one that is so recent but feels so distant now. Both writers’ letters are candid and casual, with a level of magic that can only come from belated words arriving through the post-box.
Hannah’s first letter checks in with Nina saying “I hope you’re okay in this new world”; with lockdown comes social isolation. These comforting words from a stranger across London even months later warm my heart, creating a feeling of nostalgia for a simpler world. I note to myself that I want to start sending letters to my friends – this simplistic medium allows for conversations across wide spaces and brings time to reflect. The instantaneous connection of the phone is a miracle, but the distance for your thoughts that comes with letters is a lost charm of the modern world.
Today’s letters skip between moving and amusing with personal insights into both performers’ minds in the recent past – Hannah saying to Nina “I know enough about myself to know that sometimes I can be spontaneous and reckless”. In this time of slowing down there was space for self-reflection and Hannah’s humorous and honest letter reflects the thoughts of many of us during this time. Yet, there are also moments of heightened performance with a pink gauze being placed over the webcams to create a hazy dream-like effect whilst our performers throw balloons into the air and dance with flowers.
The connection across the capital between these two writers and performers is the strength in Letters. One saying ‘‘West London seems so far away, but seeing out of your window makes me realise it still exists”. Sending each other their favourite poems we gain an insight into the emotions of these women during a turbulent time, and their reaction to their reading shows the feelings remain visceral.
Ending with some placards, their words relate to us all “I want to fast forward in time so we can all be close”. September is here and despite new levels of infection the world of theatre and performance seems to be opening up again. Even if we are distant in location we are close through this intimate performance.
Letters is performing every Monday until 7 October 2020 and tickets are available on the Gate Theatre’s Website.