The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Traverse Theatre December 2020
Dael Orlandersmith uses the tools of Verbatim Theatre to explore a
sadly-too-familiar American story. Her skills as interviewer and
assembler of voices are greater than her talent as performer, and the
power of the one-hour piece lies in the words she speaks rather than in
her speaking of them.
2014 a white Missouri policeman fatally shot a black youth after a store
robbery. There seems no doubt about the young man's guilt, but the
nature of his death angered the community and raised the recurring
questions of black crime and white police racism.
interested in the two figures at the centre of the story than in the
world that created them, Orlandersmith spoke with local people white and
black, old and young, male and female, and here presents eight of them
in their own words.
she finds is that, more than fifty years after the civil rights movement
removed the excesses of legal and institutional segregation in the
American South, race remains the dominant defining force in these
elderly black woman remembers the Jim Crow days but explains how even
younger generations who never experienced them remain shaped by the ways
of thinking they planted in the culture. A retired white cop tries to
verbalise the adversarial thinking that leads each side to feel
themselves victims of the other's hatred. A white liberal woman just
offers an impotent why-can't-we-all-get-along moan.
speakers are particularly moving, in contrasting ways. A working class
white man slips almost imperceptibly from a reasonable-sounding 'I
managed to make something of myself. Why can't they?' to open and
vicious racism, just by being allowed to keep talking. And a cowed black
teenager is just trying to keep his head down and survive one more year
until he can go off to college.
deserves credit for finding and presenting these voices, but she adds
very little in her performance. She either makes no effort to, or simply
can't distinguish among them through voice, accent, speaking style or
character is introduced by an offstage voice and onscreen title, and
were it not for that aid we might be well into a scene before we found a
clue to the age, race or sex of the speaker.
Until The Flood therefore hovers somewhere between the skilled verbatim
performances of such practitioners as Anna Deavere Smith and the
just-for-reading verbatim interviews of Studs Terkel and others, and
might be just as effective read as heard.
Dael Overlandersmith has toured America with this show, and brought it to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 2019. This well-produced video is available on the Traverse website.
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