We filed slowly, languidly into the hall; the tiered theatre seats facing down onto an illuminated archway, Chesterfield armchair, striped curtain and mixing desk. A stage set for one, Grace Savage to be precise, and the hallway of sounds that would help her to see.
Blind is Savage’s exploration of the audio catalysts that shaped her – from the caged jokes of her mother, the loaded advice, to the popular culture a teenager embraces when they want to be heard or feel free. I’ve seen it promoted in two ways, with gender specifics battling against more theatre friendly rhetoric, but the constant is Grace Savage.
And from the off Blind is unashamedly personal; a brave and immediate grasp on the solo show format, as a light shines through the curtains, casting a silhouette of Mother Savage – thick curls and raspy laugh informing her daughter “all men are bastards” and “there is no God”. The words are crueler than the delivery, funny, but damaged none the less.
The bitter wisdom still in my head Savage reveals herself from the backlight and perches on the Chesterfield, a nervous child in front of an impatient camera – “I just want to fit in,” her jaw juts out in a comedic, compliant search for approval.
“I began imitating everything around me,” tells Savage, running through a list of impetus in her life before beatboxing. Her mates, boys, girls, arbitrary sounds and The Spice Girls (if the last two need distinction) all play their part before maturity brings us to holiday guitars, Jazz scatting and the ‘human beatbox’.
We’re invited to participate, with Savage explaining phonetic techniques for the high hat and kick drum. A simple beat is suggested; split into three phlegm fighting teams the audience give it a beginner’s best but last about fifteen seconds – our efforts recorded and ‘mastered’ by our gracious host. Then a bizarrely clichéd segue splits the audience again, into teams that may as well be blue and pink, to record gender specific screaming – before Savage turns what was fun but inaudible, into a firm beat. You could call this a metaphor.
Then back to the diary entries of popular culture as a fifteen year old Grace Savage soaks up everything from TV commercials to Clinton’s back peddling – further explaining how her sense of the world came through sound. And how her evolution came through the imitation and manipulation of those sounds that surrounded her.
It’s not a new concept (oddly one I sat through in pitch black at mac a couple of weeks before, reviewing Glen Neath and David Rosenberg’s second binaural production for Fuel Theatre, Fiction) but to explore it through the experiences of someone to whom sound is so crucial, is much more pertinent.
Across personal and professional, sound has defined Grace Savage’s world in a way those around her may take for granted. And to groin kick this point home, we’re invited to don our blindfolds (ties we were given on entry) and fall into a Max Richter soundtrack with Savage describing a fight she once witnessed on a train. The escalation, from subtle threat to violence overt, is palpable, as Savage hand holds us through an increasingly angry cacophony. It’s a bright sidestep into her world; mine is made up of words on a page, or in my head, but I understand fear.
The formative journey continues, plot pointing personal discussions and discoveries that further illustrate the point; in the world according to Grace sound is gunshot and ricochet. And as chronologically we edge closer to the present, with a few salient points of beatboxing history and cultural references thrown in (if nothing else, Rahzel), there continue the pauses and confidence of an actor’s performance.
But the humour that opened the show now sits, interview style, to play us a pre-record of her mother. All the pantomime disappears as we watch a woman talk to her past, to a deep root; Savage asks questions and mouths the responses, mirroring in reality the evening’s earlier ‘advice’. The rhetoric is no longer funny. The laugh is identical. Someone in this room is likely to cry.
Then following a final, shameful, slideshow through the texts and social media Savage has received from her beatboxing performances – the frighteningly sexual and aggressive responses some people find funny, or empowering – the lights come up for the last time. Some stand, all cheer. Both are deserved.
I knew there’d be beatboxing tonight, and from one side of the promotion a gender political thread, but Blind ends as it always was – Grace Savage alone on a stage. No doubt the brief to this production covered a series of box ticking funding steams, and if that allowed it to live then I have no quarrel or axe, but tonight was Grace Savage; Blind is her world, her honesty, her velvet glove punch.
A one woman show about the show of one woman, Blind is superlative to watch. To present it in any other way is, ironically, perhaps obscuring the vision.
For more on Grave Savage, visit http://www.gracesavageofficial.com/
For more on The Paper Birds, visit http://www.thepaperbirds.com/
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