An unusual concept from John Patterson and performance that leaves you musing on the quirks and qualms of those around us. Through using the words of overheard conversations, Eavesdropping and the Angel Theatre Company brings something truly original to West London.
We are perched in a slightly oppressive setting – in darkened plush cinema seats and surrounded by black pillars. The stage is a resplendent black and white chequered pattern, with three lone white chairs lying empty. Opposite me is a set of white shelves. On them are an array of random objects; a jar of peanut butter, a stack of takeaway boxes, germolene, Tesco value lager, a measuring tape and a souvenir mug, among other things. It sets the scene splendidly for what is to come – vignettes of daily life, reimagined through the voices of ten different actors.
The Angel Theatre Company provides an opportunity for graduates to stage professional performances within the first year of graduating. The idea of Eavesdropping seems very suited to this company. The actors have gone out into the world and listened in on scenes all over London and brought them back to us. We see the inside of the Underground, doctor’s waiting rooms, lunch breaks at work, shouted conversations in the street, workmen chatting outside a house. Each actor has the opportunity to morph and change into a huge array of characters, bringing the world of London to be displayed in front of us in all its cringing glory.
The funniest was probably the two men having an in-depth conversation about shoes. The absurd rhetoric surrounding the purchasing and wearing of footwear as holy relics sat beautifully with their rendition. But there were also touching scenes – the woman visiting her mother in hospital, the man musing on his achievements in life. Some are seconds long, showing a fleeting and often bizarre exchange. Others are more violent and worrying, capturing despair or intense reflection, often directed at an indifferent listener.
The first scene didn’t quite have the lift that it could have. I’ll put it down to nerves, but as we flashed through more scenes they seemed to relax more into their different roles and there was a better sense of rhythm. Some of them pulled it off better than others – those particularly worthy of note were Lara Bell, Bradley Crees, Jack Cronin and Lottie Davies, who just seemed to inhabit each of their roles far more snugly than the others, with a distinct character created even for a few moments.
The staging is slick. The movement of chairs and simple choreography shifts us seamlessly into new scenes, which is impressive considering the sheer number of them. The audience is behind the performers, or being scrutinised by them, or side on, constantly reminded of their role as voyeurs in this display. In fact, the delicious embarrassment is most definitely part of the appeal, as we can safely observe and laugh without needing to respond.
What makes it entertaining is the mirroring of ourselves on the stage. We can see our reflection in the angst of the commuters, the cringing exchanges at work, the random outbursts from the hairdresser. Through the staging of these small instances, it lends something more poignant to idle chatter, and reveals the awkward beauty in everyday communication.
Ultimately, this is what the performance affords. Perhaps not a tangible narrative or a solid conclusion, but a heartening insight into what it is to be human.