Domestic abuse, being Jewish, diabetes, vaginas, spreading ashes and chips.
Just a few of the topics covered in tonight’s performance of Earshot by Kate Hunter, featuring performer/composer Josephine Lange and behind the scenes, electroacoustic musician Jem Savage. Between the three of them these ladies have managed to bring together a diverse range of theatrical practices, musical elements and select verbatim to form an effortlessly fluid and very entertaining piece of contemporary theatre. At 45 Downstairs until Sunday 3rd December, Earshot will leave you questioning how involved you become in complete strangers’ lives on a daily basis and in turn how much of yourself you offer to the public when speaking in a shared space.
As we took our seats I noticed that the audience was surrounded by a number of red funnels attached to plastic piping, which weaved through the stands having originated from what looked like two sets of plastic tube pan pipes standing opposite each other on either side of the stage. Upon further examination of the set it appeared somewhat industrial and minimalistic, comprising of no more than the pipes, a few chairs, some music stands and a few everyday objects such as a foot pump and tin cans; all accompanied by two large projector screens. Although neither intricate or indicative, this set was the perfect platform for both Jo and Kate to engage the audience in their exploration of the verbatim text.
As soon as both performers took the stage it was apparent that they had got to know this material inside out and had set clear intentions for each aspect of it. From the outset I felt that both Kate and Jo were fully connected to the content, both completely present in the space and brilliantly in sync with each other as performers. It seemed clear to me that there had been a great deal of play involved in the making of this piece; which shone through as we see both performers experiment with language, movement and props throughout. The space in 45 Downstairs was also used well, it can be difficult with a text based piece to incorporate movement and levels, however this didn’t appear to be an issue for Kate and Jo as their use of the space fully supported their intentions.
Without a doubt the parts of this performance that I enjoyed the most were the explorations around speech and language. Having interviewed Kate a few weeks ago, I was aware of her interest in language and in particular the Australian vernacular, which became apparent through the many characters which both she and Jo presented through each verbatim exchange. Both performers used accent, intonation, repetition, tone and pace brilliantly throughout the piece, which enabled a sort of organic humour to flow through from the text. It appeared that Kate had selected the content based on elements of language and conversation which intrigue her the most. For example, one of my favourite observations in Earshot was of the ‘T’ which frequently works its way into most Northern English sentences, ‘I’m going t’shop’; conveyed excellently through Kate – top marks for the Northern accent too!
I also really enjoyed the way in which Earshot had been constructed; these were performers presenting characters to the audience, not actresses becoming characters. This enabled the focus to remain predominantly on the verbatim text; which was also cleverly used to set the context of the piece. In this sense, onomatopoeia featured regularly throughout the performance in order to set a scene; which I believe was an intentional decision by Kate to maintain the theme of exploring everything which is in ‘earshot’ when experimenting with verbatim; down to the wind blowing and crickets singing in the background of a domestic dispute.
Although Earshot is an exploration of Kate Hunter’s lifetime obsession with eavesdropping; both Jem Savage and Josephine Lange’s musical influence is clear in the construction of the recorded soundscapes, sometimes ominous tones and in the performing of the text itself. The sounds which can be produced using everyday items such as tin cans, and kitchen appliances also worked well within in the piece to convey how conversations can be misinterpreted or lost in translation; generally making the piece and it’s content relatable to a wide audience. In turn rhythm and sound play a significant part in the entire piece and become the glue which holds this varied exploration of verbatim theatre together in a contemporary and consistently entertaining context. Altogether a brilliantly constructed and effortlessly performed exploration of the blurred lines between private details and publicly available information in the modern day.
Will you be so willing to share private details about your life next time you’re in a public place?
You never know who might be listening.