January 2021 saw the start of the Living Record Festival, which featured over forty artists and theatre companies showcasing digital work, from spoken word audio pieces to mini-web series. It has garnered many four-star and five-star reviews. In this two-part series, Carmina Masoliver discusses her picks of the festival’s most interesting shows. You can read part two here.
Skip, Skip, Skip by Leanne Moden
Originally a spoken word show that debuted at 2019’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Leanne Moden’s Skip, Skip, Skip offers a unique experience, subtly soundscaped as we are taken through snapshots of teenage memories. From the onset, we are carried to a time where it was much easier to buy alcohol underage, but a place where it was also more difficult to be different, as the sound of punches are met with a sound loop of verbal abuse. Poems are punctuated with beeps that also give it the feel of a bygone era, and the content ranges from being narrative and loaded in rhyme, to sensory and visual. The price for ‘experimentation’ is to be cast as an outsider. Although specific to Moden’s personal experience growing up in Wisbech, there are sure to be relatable moments within the piece, such as: ‘Portable CD player as life support machine,’ with music being a pivotal element in surviving your teens. There is humour between the darker moments, and by the end you’re lifted up and reassured. If any future developments are planned, the addition of musical instruments to the piece might uplift it further, beyond the soft tapping of drums. Although it is a piece about how music informs our lives, it is also about finding your identity and the confidence to be proud of who you are: “This is not a costume, this is an unfurling of wings”.
You can support Leanne Moden’s work by buying her book Get Over Yourself.
Mango Lassi by Elian Gray
Written and performed by Elian Gray, and filmed by Mike Masaros, Mango Lassi provides an audio-visual experience. At under 5 minutes, what the piece lacks in length, it makes up for in its high production. Exploring religion and spirituality, there is a sense of foreboding created by the experimental use of sound, and the flickering images that accompany the narrative, playing with light and dark, and kaleidoscopic patterns. From the start, the magic hat conjures up the idea of illusion and power. The binaural effect works incredibly well for this piece, as the tension increases as Gray comes closer to whisper in each ear, making his presence all the more lifelike. The rhymes are inventive, and the lines are complex, yet the story shines through. Although simple to understand the thread of the narrative, the piece is also sure to have you coming back for more, unpicking lines such as: “He claims to see the God in me / when it’s more probable that we’ll find God in a laboratory / cotching in his boxers / horrified by what’s on TV.” Whilst the meaning is clear, Gray allows enough space between his words for listeners to also interpret the piece for themselves.
You can listen to Awkward Awe by Elian Gray on his website.
Thrash by Rogue Play Theatre
Fast-paced and fragmented, Thrash is a 40-minute monologue dealing with mental breakdown and grief, interspersed with the voice of a therapist, and other advisory figures. The spoken word is echoed, looped and overlapped, combined with sounds and music, and a cappella song. There’s a connection between the woman that’s referred to as ‘she’, with the ethereal singing giving the impression of a person lost. We later get more insight into the relationship, and the narrative becomes clearer, colouring in the present from these past memories. There’s a sense that the dead woman and the speaker could be the same person, with the realisation that “death is something that actually happens to you, not just other people.” The story takes place in Edinburgh, where the speaker is in a crisis unit. She questions, ‘Am I doing grief wrong?’ and there are a multitude of voices eager to tell her what’s right. We don’t know the specifics of the illness, but she is being treated with a combination of medication and therapy, and told “You’re ill, you’re in shock, you’re grieving, and it’s very very hard work.” We are also invited to join in a mindful breathing exercise as we listen, as she works towards creating her instructions for grieving.
For more information about Rogue Play Theatre, you can visit their website.
My Mix(ed up) Tape by Katie Elizabeth Payne
Taking place at Phoebe’s cousin’s wedding, classic wedding songs are spun out by DJ GLADE to a colourful kaleidoscope, forming the backdrop of the play. Katie Payne is both writer and protagonist, and is natural and funny, telling P’s backstory in between moments of the present as she moves between wedding guests. It’s easy to imagine the piece on stage, but with the whole team of Dirty Protest Theatre behind the camera work and graphic design, the piece is perfectly designed to capture your attention on screen. It is a piece about mis-diagnosed ADHD, and how this is exhibited through anger and alcohol-fuelled violence: “I feel like crying, but I smack both drinks out of her hands and then push her face a little bit with my palm, and I head towards the buffet table.” Perhaps viewers will see themselves or someone they know in P, and this can start a conversation.
You can follow Katie Payne’s work on Twitter.
Controversy by Maya Katherine
A series of short episodes as part of a web series, told through video calls, Controversy explores protagonist Hayley’s dream to be an influencer, with each segment ending on a beautiful original song. Much of the resistance she gets from people in her life advising her to have a ‘plan B’ will be familiar to aspiring artists. Although certain influencers produce creative content, from the onset there is a feeling that something more sinister is to come. With her relationship and friendships paying the price, it makes us question why controversy garners so much attention, and how healthy this is for both viewers and content creators, especially at such a young age. Under the thumb of the agency, how far will Hayley go in her hunger for fame, and what will be the cost?
You can find out more about Maya Katherine on her website.
Vivid Ashes by The Quean’s Company
A short visual exploration of trauma. Whilst the narration of Vivid Ashes is thought-provoking, this four-minute film has a comedic twist. Starting with slow paced commentary on mental health by the duo that makes up The Quean’s Company, it raises questions about the very relationship between trauma and the creation of art. The sincerity of the words are juxtaposed with surreal imagery such as licking a cactus and eating a slice of bread. It looks at repression and artistic expression with silent screams holding flowers that are followed by a straight-faced smirk. Music comes in and speeds up the images, offering a change in mood, and ending with a celebration of using life’s experiences to create something better.
You can follow The Quean’s Company on Twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Living Record Productions
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