Jo Tyabji’s Mouthful of Salt and Soil is my first theatrical walking experience. It is a boiling hot, summery June day in central London, and as per instructions I lace up my trainers and head outside. What follows is a forty-minute whirlwind of introspection and emotion.
Tyabji’s narrative weaves smoothly in and out of personal recollection and experience, entwined with a historical dive into British colonialism. She explores themes of assimilation, of growing up as a brown woman in Britain, alongside the idea of salt as both part of our bodies (I never knew that we are as salty as sea water is!) and yet also a commodity that became wielded as a tool of oppression in British India. Coming into Mouthful of Salt and Soil I have no idea that I will resonate so much with its message; as a mixed-race woman myself, I understand that growing up into a white cultural sphere can often be confusing and alienating. One memory offered us by Tyabji stands out more than the rest; a small, brown child in a sea of white faces, singing ‘Rule Britannia’ and waving a Union Jack flag for all she is worth. I have similar troubling memories, and so from the start I find a connection with the piece.
One thing that strikes me is that the narrative seems to reach a peak and stays at that level throughout. It starts off calm, almost meditative, and gradually works its way up into the fever pitch of emotion which characterises most of the piece. It covers extraordinarily emotional and vital topics and so I completely understand why the piece is this way; however, I personally find it harder to stay totally engaged when the tone is not more varied. Furthermore, Tyabji keeps making the point that the piece ‘is not coherent’ and that her thoughts are confused and jumbled. Again, I understand why this is the case and do not wish to invalidate opinions and emotions, but a slight lack of coherence in structure makes the piece harder to follow, and makes the point it is trying to make harder to grasp.
Mouthful of Salt and Soil is punctuated by short breaks in which we are asked to stop, look around, and speak out loud. I find that this is the perfect remedy to an, at times, overwhelming narrative; I take a deep breath alongside Tyabji, I look at the sky and tell myself what colour it is, I note that I am standing on concrete. It really hammers home another aspect of the piece, which is a connection to soil and land. “The land does not know me”, I am asked to repeat out loud. Tyabji asks us if we think this is true, and I find that this illustrates one of the great aspects of the piece; it sends me into deep thought and reflection, and invites me to consider complexity. I also find myself surprised at how refreshing it is to stop and look around on a walk; these days I find myself walking from one destination to another without ever looking up and taking in surroundings.
The most positive thing I take away from Mouthful of Salt and Soil is the personal connection I feel blossoming between myself and Tyabji. I cannot be further away from her, she on a shingle beach under a slate grey sky, myself on a busy road in central London, sweating in the heat. Despite this I feel close to her, and thanks to this, I fly up and out of the city into her world.
Mouthful of Salt and Soil is available to listen to on the BUZZCUT website until 5 June. For more information and tickets, see Buzzcut online.