By Ellen Olley
A Night of Voices is a short and impactful exploration of both mainstream and experimental marginalised-voice performance art.
The Birley Room is a welcoming environment, placing all in the room in the same lighting and level. The participants sit in full view throughout, chat to their friends as the room fills, and watch their colleagues’ performances, creating a sense of commonality. The narratives that will be shared over the course of the night are delivered as to a group of friends in a discussion, rather than from on high in a pulpit. We feel involved, engaged, not preached to. This lends the night both its drive and its charm.
Charming also perfectly describes the ensemble of performers. They range in their genre of choice and in their technical prowess, yet each equally and evocatively is fully engaged with their individual staging. The recitations where they collaborate are intelligently and excitingly paced, and the closing ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou is a moment of particular strength.
The most memorable moments of the night are orchestrated by the poetry of Yolan Noszkay, fresh from the celebrated Durham Drama Festival run of her play, ‘You Will Hear Me’. Her skill as a poet and performer is exceptional; I found myself moved to tears during both of her recitations. ‘My Mother(‘s) Tongue’ navigates the minefields of both cultural polyvalence and mother-daughter relationships through endearing and recognisable metaphors. However, it is in ‘A Moment of Change’ where she really shines, the intimate verse beautifully placing the domestic against the horrors of conflict.
Other particularly strong moments are the self-penned monologues of Stephen Ledger and Molly Knox. I was initially dubious of Ledger’s inclusion as a white man in a night focused so strongly on diverse inclusion, however, his discussion of the changing image of modern masculinity and the breaking of generational trauma felt well-placed in the program, and his moments of levity were a welcome alleviation of the tension of the showcase. Along with Knox, both performances brought an intensely personal touch to the night, which complemented the setting beautifully.
The other performances of the night also added to this sense of individualism. Hemotika Nazumder’s reimagining of Marc Anthony’s ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’ speech from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ and Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged Bird’ breathe fresh light into classic texts. The juxtaposition of political rhetoric and a struggle for freedom seem well suited to the time and showcase her range. Ayana de Zoysa tackles two Ella Hickson monologues: her version of ‘Precious Little Talent’ is particularly arresting and she appears as an assured and compelling actor.
The production team of Tia Norris and Chavi Chung should be congratulated on the energy of the night as a whole. It is a diverse program but pulled together with overarching themes of freedom and relations with parenthood which maintains the sense of comprehensive performance. With a line-up that deals throughout with dark and emotional topics, there is a risk that the tone could dip below the moving and into the miserable. However, I left the evening borne up with a sense of hope. There may be much work left to do, but even in that small room was a team of burning creative young minds seeking change- a powerful image of potential for the future.
As a whole, it was a pleasantly bite-sized experience of new and better-known talent. All proceeds from the ticket sales go to a charity supporting refugees and given this, and the charm and energy of the performers, I urge you to pop along to the Birley Rooms tonight and support a more unconventional night of theatre.
Image credit: Sightline Theatre Company