“The Dot Collective and director Laura Harling have created something truly beautiful”
Walking into the venue I was spoken to by someone who I thought was a helpful road worker, he said “are you here for that One Hundred Trillion thing? It’s over there”. I proceeded to walk into the venue thinking nothing more of this. On receiving my ticket I was directed to walk up some stairs where I was greeted in an exaggerated manner by a gentleman who showed me the way to the bar or to the toilets … I chose the bar. I didn’t think much about my earlier encounters as I listened to the live music being performed in there by two of the cast.
I think it’s important to say that this isn’t a ‘show’ or even a ‘performance’, I feel it surpasses those terms and sits better being referred to as an experience, and what an experience it is. We are exposed to facts and figures regarding dementia which we struggle to comprehend only to be then given a visual way of thinking about it, with the idea of the bookshelf. This helps us picture how the mind works in this way and the reasons some memories are kept and some drift away.
The experience then takes us on a literal journey around the building putting us in rooms covered in writings from actual people that the company has connected with through its research. These stories and real answers to questions littering the walls allow us into the very different minds that created them, they feel true and grounded. This is something I came back to a lot during the evening, the idea of truth and authenticity. The portrayal of those incredibly touching yet personal stories was sensitively done, letting us into the lives of those affected.
Interlacing the performance elements are snippets of footage from the various nursing homes the company had visited, reminding us that these are real people and what they say matters. These clips were sometimes supported with voiceovers from the creatives on the project explaining what they had done and who they had connected with in order to get their material, this cemented for me that this was a labour of love and not a vanity project. The creative team and seven strong cast gave an impression of really caring, and for an audience this means a lot, we feel comfortable laughing at funny lines and more importantly we feel okay to shed a tear when it touches us.
One Hundred Trillion is a promenade piece and each journey into a new room is a different performance – The Frames, written by Chantelle Dusette, I Could Have Danced All Night by Margaret Perry, Lucy Grace’s Topsoil, and London Bus by Lily Bevan.
The Dot Collective and director Laura Harling have created something truly beautiful, making memories feel real and showing us how important it is to celebrate what we remember because one day there’s a chance you might forget. A true work of brilliance, sensitively crafted and authentically shown, touching the audience on a human level.
“Moments … a touching work, full of sadness but also smattered with humour”
Although Pennyworth Production’s objective to create ‘new work to challenge old ideas’ could be open to interpretation, this poignant and compelling double bill certainly reinforces the ‘kitchen sink’ philosophy that real-life is drama in itself. Drawing on subjects often buried but part of the make-up of modern society – loneliness, family tensions, mental health – the slow, tragic undercurrent of ‘Moments’ and the restless, tragic unravelling of ‘Empty Beds’ fit together beautifully. With sensitive writing by Julia Cranney and masterly direction by Kate Treadell, the production focuses on the impact of the unspoken and the force of the absent, leaving the characters on stage battling to move forward from lives they have left behind or missed.
‘Moments’ interlocks two unlikely people, with clever, spoken dialogue, binding them together for the audience before they find their own friendship. Simon Mattack and Julia Cranney (Daniel and Ava) give strong, sympathetic performances as they try to keep up appearances between awkward glances and growing familiarity and struggling to find the warmth of human contact in the coldness of a big city. The pace, perhaps, remains constant for slightly too long and the action is somewhat precipitated after Daniel’s personal revelation, which cuts short a very moving scene. Nevertheless, it is a touching work, full of sadness but also smattered with humour.
While ‘Moments’ works well, ‘Empty Beds’ is a flawless piece of drama, perfectly directed and interpreted. Debbie Brannan (Jo) and Carys Wright (Emily) join Julia Cranney (Catherine) as three sisters on a train journey to visit their brother on his birthday. Inevitably the emotional bond connecting them tightens and loosens, and resentments, truths and affections are stirred up. The changing pace and mood and the superb acting are completely absorbing as the sisters, confined to a train carriage, cannot escape the confrontations as they unpick their relationships with each other.
Anna Reid’s set is perfectly unassuming in its simplicity, uncluttered by props, and the lighting (Ali Hunter) is unobtrusive yet carefully enhancing. Even the sound, which plays a prominent part in sketching the background, similar to a radio drama, does not detract from the stage. In all three aspects less is unquestionably more, all brought neatly together by Georgia Tetlow (Stage Manager and Operator). Moreover, Pennyworth Productions advocacy to favour women on and off stage is remarkable here and most fitting in the current climate of equality.
It is often hard to dramatise the delicate social issues broached in these plays. They can become sentimental, over-simplified or too dark. The company gives an honest, articulate version of what lies behind families and friendships, admittance, acceptance and regret, in well-balanced tragi-comedies. It shows how the survival instinct of human nature shines through the pain of life’s conditions with humour and hope, conjuring up a myriad of emotions in a highly recommended evening at the Hope Theatre.