Belgrade Theatre review: This Little Relic
This Little Relic, Belgrade B2 Theatre, Thursday, September 30 to Saturday, October 2.
By Sue Beech
This, a BBC Audio Drama North/ Belgrade collaboration, is a most unusual theatrical experience, both fascinating and gripping. It's a radio play on stage – so no set, no costumes, no props, just a semi-circle of chairs, each with a microphone in front of it; room at the back for the Belgrade Black Youth Theatre Choir; a chair set to the left of the stage, and a table and stool on the opposite side with some items piled up on it.
The piece, comissioned for City of Culture, is set in Coventry, where in 1828, Ira Aldridge became England’s first theatre manager of colour. His play, The Black Doctor, is being revived in a pop-up community theatre by youth worker Mr Sims, in an attempt to bring together young people from different warring areas of the city. Among them are Alex and Ajay, former schoolfriends, both of whom have recently lost a parent. Alex is trying to discover her biological parents and explore her own heritage, while Ajay is gay but only partly out. His mother, Prabhleen, is attracted to Mr Sims – but complications arise when the latter’s former partner, Jen, returns to Coventry as a developer with big plans for regeneration in the city.
Alex and Ajay have ideas for updating the play with modern language and new songs, but this is resisted by Mr Sims; he has nightmares in which Ira Aldridge appears to him with a mixture of encouragement and warnings. To make matters worse for him, the venue for the play, a disused pub, is under threat, and tensions rise when a teenage boy is stabbed in the city.
The players in this piece do far more than read the lines. Facial expressions and body language emphasise their emotions, hopes, and fears, and the action is punctuated by a wide variety of sound effects produced by a wonderful foley artist using the miscellany of items at the side of the stage. She even collapses full length on the floor to mimic the sound of a body falling. I thought it a shame that her contribution was not acknowledged at the end of the performance.
Woven throughout the action are songs performed a capella by the Belgrade Black Youth Choir. And that chair to the left of the stage? Rather surreal for a radio play, it's for a signer who certainly works hard throughout the piece.
The themes of identity, heritage, acceptance, contribution, and hope provide much to ponder – and I am still pondering the title of the piece too. I look forward to hearing this play again when it airs on Radio 3 (7.30pm on Sunday, September 26) or on BBC Sounds.
For tickets and information go to: https://www.belgrade.co.uk/