The words multi-media performance take a while to warm to, largely because they conjure images of abstract expressionism and participation which send the I-just-want-a-good-story-with-a-beginning-a-middle-and-an-end theatre goer running in the opposite direction. But, if you took such a person to see Almost Human’s work you’d soon turn them round.
Letters From Another Island takes the audience into the heart of the film production process, transforming it into a strangely beautiful and mesmerising experience. Using green screens, a series of model backgrounds that become the backdrops for the scenes, the production of live sound effects and voice work, as well a soundtrack, and a projected screen where it all comes together, the production stands somewhere between film and theatre, being as much about our interaction with fictional worlds as it is about the stories themselves.
The show takes us through six monologues, the whole cast working together to bring each one to life. The strange has a fragmentary feel: one actor provides the voice whilst another provides the body in front of the green screen, another performer provides the sound effects, and the others handle the lighting and scenery of the model currently providing the location. Scenes move backwards and forwards, one story is seemingly completed and left behind, another begins, some scenes retain their realism, others are certainly surreal.
But the show is very much aware of its fragmentary feel, and it allows the audience to place their focus where they desire and make their own connections from the series of six monologues. Yet overall there is a definitely a sense of a connected whole, and there is a captivating feel of immersion by being in the room at the same time as the work is being collectively created.
The script is great: the monologues are colourful and varied, brought to life by the great voice work of the cast. The stories range from the mundane to transcendental, bolstered by the models that move from realistic to absurd; we move through the street, the moon, the train station, the two apartments, and the field. There is a great moment that occurs a few times in the production where an upbeat percussion track plays as the camera pans from room to room, mixing backdrops and models, whilst the actors dance across the green screen, creating a great sense of play and energy.
The sound is particularly gripping: with so much focus on each individual voice or noise the quality of the sound is greatly enhanced, and the soundtrack really knits the show together.
This review would hardly be complete without mentioning the models that are so prominent in the show. The attention to detail on some is great, but so was the production’s decision to mix scale and break the created realism, so that at times the audience forgets the fictionality of the world until it is promptly reminded by the appearance of a finger moving a cardboard train.
A very original, crafted piece of work, with a celebration of the low-fi and handmade, that powerfully shows how multi-media can produce compelling pieces of art. Almost Human are certainly paving the way forwards with playful and creative work.
You can find more pictures of the show and the rest of the festival on my Pinterest Board World Stage Design 2013.