ROBERT STEVENS reviews A Year From Now at the VAULT Festival

RedBellyBlack’s A Year From Now is an innovative and exciting piece of multi-media theatre that uses the stage more as an echo-chamber to project the minds of its subjects. Interviewees are asked where they see themselves, as the title suggests, a year from now. The respondents range from ages 4 to 94 years, healthy to dying, hopefully idealistic to bluntly realistic. Playback of the recorded interviews forms the dialogue of the play which is complemented by five actors’ correspondent mime.

Though at first the set-up seems a little crude, and the actors merely a nice visual delight to supplement the interviews, it quickly becomes clear that the joy of the play is in the choreography. A child’s most personal thoughts are rebounded through the physicality of the actor, who reacts to every small emotion offered through the recording. The physical theatre scrutinises all aspects of the interviewees’ words, responding to language, tone and inflection in order to tap into and express the subjects’ psychologies. In a way the play becomes almost academic in its structure: the interviewer questions the subjects, and the actors analyse the content, physically expressing their findings. At one point, one of the five actors mimes the interview of a fifteen-year old girl, while the other four form various shapes and figures to represent the implications of her words. Though at times these performances and interrogations can even seem slightly cruel – such as the teenage girl portrayed by a male actor, undermining her quest for perfect eyebrows – most of the interviews tend to go beyond a portrayal by a single actor in favour of a more interesting group response. What was particularly original – perhaps testament to the form of verbatim theatre – was that the actors aimed to explain the interviews, rather than attempting just to offer a convincing portrayal of them. The array of different worldviews given in the interviews was not only fascinating, but were also (thankfully) well handled, the direction did not seek to judge, but rather to listen to the opinions offered.

Image courtesy of RedBellyBlack

It was in the middle of the performance that RedBellyBlack showed their potential to realise physical theatre at its best. The beginning did not fully draw attention to the power of mime and dance, and the conclusion felt perhaps just too aptly moral to be taken seriously – a hopeful look forward to the year ahead felt forced, as did some of the juxtapositions of characters which seemed to simply express diversity in and of itself rather than anything more emotionally touching. Rather, the play’s strongest points were when the interviews managed to capture contrasting outlooks, and from people at different stages of life. At times the performances offered such a believable interpretation of the interviewees that it was hard not to see beyond the actors themselves: the production succeeded in so fully absorbing the audience in the narratives that the five performers stopped appearing as individuals but manifested instead as a single entity on stage.

Image courtesy of RedBellyBlack

Though the sound quality of the interviews was inconsistent and could do with some editing, this was more than made up for by an excellent musical score. The beautiful jazz score, particularly, gave ambient guidance to some of the play’s darker, and more pessimistic scenes. A Year From Now shows just how effective mime and dance are as a way to illustrate real stories and real lives. Fairly everyday interviews were brought to life through fantastic performances by actors whose imaginative choreography provided real insight into and a sense of emotional depth behind the stories the audience heard. Through its range of narratives, A Year From Now offers the audience sketches from all areas of life with engaging originality and creativity. Despite its slightly too easy framing, the meat of A Year From Now is more than enough to satisfy even the most cynical of audiences.

A Year From Now played from Jan 25th – 29th as a part of VAULT Festival (Jan 25th – Mar 5th 2017). Find more information here.