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Powerful story-telling in search of truth

At the end of the day it's all about truth. Are We Where We Are or in some sort of false position?

The question posed by Theatre Absolute's series of specially commissioned works, eighteen months now in the making, receives its latest outing with two powerful pieces, playing to as big an audience as I've yet seen at the Shop Front Theatre.

It's story-telling both intimate and sweeping in scale. Actress Cristina Catalina's (Pictured above) personal account The Things We Tell Ourselves (this is her debut as a writer) ranges across real revolution, represented by Rumania's dictator-toppling coup of 1989, to the false promises of Tube train advertising and her young son's awakening sense of the uncertain world around him. What is truth, she asks, when so much of our modern world seems to fall into rival camps who seek no conversation with each other?

In Don't Cry For Me, writer Stephanie Ridings' (pictured right) response to the question draws us straight into the hearth and home of a happy Blackpool family who are about to have the certainties in their lives shattered by mental illness.

Her brother, to all appearances a child prodigy heading for great things, turns out not to be who his parents and sister thought he was and they must find ways of dealing with that. Like all the best stories, it's real, not fiction, and she tells it with painful honesty and a winning touch of humour.

These two pieces of work, less than fifty minutes in length between them, manage to say an awful lot about the human condition, as the six pieces that preceeded them did too.

The ninth and final iteration of Are We Where We Are will feature seven new writers, tackling the question in a series of performances from November 7-10. Don't miss it.

Barbara Goulden writes: Coventry could be well set up for a ready-made cafe society in 2021 if the latest performances at Theatre Absolute are anything to go by.

Actors and writers Stephanie Ridings and Cristina Catalina both presented 15 to 20 minute monologues as part of the strangely entitled series: Are We Where We Are?

There will be nine playlets in total, all first performed in the intimate space of the former fish and chip shop at the edge of City Arcade where the sound of skateboarders and exercise classes can sometimes intrude but never detract from the intensity of the atmosphere inside.

I found particular resonance in Stephanie Ridings Don't Cry For Me which begins with her cleverly asking the audience to stand up and sing along to the words of Evita's powerful appeal to Argentina...the song her little brother knew from start to finish at the age of two.

Mixing humour with pathos we learn how it all goes horribly wrong after that. And we sit riveted to our seats as her story unfolds...a glass of wine or a cappuccino might help the medicine of lost dreams go down.

This is a busy playwright. Her other work, The Fear of Fear, was commissioned by Warwick Arts Centre.

From Rumanian-born Cristina Catalina we heard a piece entitled The Things We Tell Ourselves, about her life now and her childhood in a city that 25 years ago was just about to revolt against its dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Communist leaders were falling all over Eastern Europe - Ceausescu and his wife Elena were put before a firing squad.

Cristina contrasts the palpable atmosphere of fear and revolution in the city at that time with the sweetness of picking raspberries in her grandfather's garden...before moving on to her new life in Britain and the adequacy of her own mothering skills.

Two powerful performances.

Pictures by Andrew Moore

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