Created by Mike Brookes
When booking to see a National Theatre Wales production, there is an expectation for something thought provoking, intense and different.
The STORM cycle is a series of multimedia works that aims to explore the themes of truth and testimony, it includes original texts, specially created sounds and novel physical-acts TOGETHER AND ALONE succeeded in including specially created sounds – the composition was eery and worked to punctuate the piece. It also drew on Simone de Beauvoir’s Pour une moral de l’ambiguite, a work that explores the varying ethical attitudes of people and how they relate to the idea of “freedom”.
TOGETHER AND ALONE presents, through 8 different people, a different view of freedom and what their freedom means to them.
It is an interesting concept showcased against a high-impact backdrop; the cast and audience all stranded together on a stage that could be the prow of a ship, or the floor of a warehouse, or a holding area for refugees. Strewn around are clear plastic bin bags rammed and bursting forth with clothes, as if people have packed to leave, or have donated to charity, or have left somewhere in a hurry. Two large screens display statements that seem like negative rewrites of inspirational quotes.
The spectacle of this, when entering and waiting for the action to start, boded well. But the reality, when things “got going” was that there would be no action. As tremendous as each actor may have been, it was impossible to enjoy their hard work – the words delivered were a series of self-reflective testimonies and as much character as the actors tried to put in it was stripped away by the overwhelming monotony of it all. Perhaps this was the point – we live in a world where we talk about, think about, tweet/insta/facebook/snapchat about ourselves; we are so preoccupied with ourselves and how we see ourselves within the world, and how we think and want others to see us, that we do nothing of real importance. (I understand this is a generalisation, just to make everyone clear…in case you think ill of me, because that’s not something I want…now should I put a winky face emoji here to make it clear I’m making a joke? Hmmm…)
Whether this was the point or not, it simply felt tedious. I was working so hard to take in the words, but the movement and interaction that was there (and, be assured, the actors did as much as they could), just wasn’t enough to fill the gaps of character and story; the total absence of energy meant that I missed all the substance, the nuances, the political leanings, because I was too busy worrying about how long it would take for my knee to start hurting from all the standing, and thinking about how it could be made more dynamic and engaging. Convincing myself that my lack of engagement must be a mental fog which, surely, must indicate the early onset of the menopause!
The monologues/statements the characters were making were extremely well written, but the voices (no matter what accent they were in) still sounded the same. Yet as standalone tracks they could have been truly engaging; in podcast form, for example, the audience could listen and explore at their own pace, if they had something to watch too, or something to do (fold clothes and bag them, perhaps). I appreciate this is easier said than done though and, as usual, NTW has staged something different and risky – unfortunately, the biggest risk for me is how alienating a piece of theatre like this can be.
National Theatre Wales presented STORM.3 TOGETHER AND ALONE at The Neon in Newport from 21st-23rd March so you can’t go and see it now but, to be honest, if you’re anything like me you’d have spent more time thinking about whether there’d be time for a glass of wine at Le Pub than being moved by the work, anyway.