A complete joy to watch, Sonder is one of those plays that will have you reflecting on your own life whilst also being inspiring, touching and thoughtful. A verbatim play, the co-directors and writers Anna West and Elena Jennings-Mares, created a script from interviews they held with five individuals. Each interviewee was in a different stage of life, ranging from a student to a soon-to-be-retired lady. The play focuses on themes of connection and disconnection and seamlessly shows how as strangers, our lives can be more entangled than we think. The individual stories these characters possess are often heart-warming, sometimes emotional and always alluring. Sonder is a wonderful creation and incredibly original, it is a must watch!
Set at a bus stop, the stage is set with exactly this. Beautifully handmade, there is nothing other to say than this set was perfect. Simple but incredibly effective, there is a bus shelter complete with a projection screen as its back. There is a timetable and lamp post on either side of the shelter. Made from cardboard, the soft brown tones gave a peaceful atmosphere to the performance and allow the actors to shine. The projection screen is a great addition. Playing real-life footage from places around Durham that the action on stage is set in, this really helps bring a sense of tangibility to the performances and compliments the natural and in-the-moment verbatim responses from the interviewees. Performed in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, the stage is end on and the space is perfectly arranged with the shelter taking centre stage.
Durham Drama Festival celebrates students’ creativity and Sonder deserves roaring applause for its uniqueness and creative stance. The very concept of exploring how strangers’ lives can intertwine is so beautiful and the team execute the beauty sensitively. Showcasing, our similarities, philosophies and even differences, each character reveals a little about themselves a bit at a time. Whether this be their job or their biggest fears. The entire play has a completely natural feel to it, almost a documentary style. West and Jennings-Mares are genuine genuineness and their concept is interesting and lays the foundations of what is a very strong piece of student theatre.
All the performers did an excellent job of creating non-fictional characters from the verbatim interviews they listened to. None felt like a copy or impersonation, each took the words and gave them a meaning, and meaning to perhaps comments anyone would make in passing. Thea Stedman Jones playing M, a uni student who is learning to do what she wants rather than doing what she feels is expected, does a fantastic job at creating a character who is sensitive and thoughtful. You can’t help but like her, particularly as she tells a story about her granny who it is clear she has a lot of adoration for. Her performance is touching. Alex Edwards plays a college porter, and he brilliantly injects the performance with energy. As a dad, Edwards’ character is beaming with pride for his daughter, this moment in the play is again moving. Another proud parent is E played by Maria Erazo. Erazo is an incredibly natural performer. Her character works in a college canteen and has moved from Greece to the UK. Erazo showcases the hardships her character has faced and also draws empathy from the audience. Moritz Afridi plays another student, very different from Stedman Jones’. A memorable moment is Afridi’s response to the question of why did their character chose Durham, the answer is delivered naturally and brings out a key message of the play; we all have our own stories. Nat Pryke plays a Durham inhabitant. Pryke plays a wise character and showcases her thoughts as if they have just come from the top of her head. Pryke’s performance is insightful and she presents her character deeply.
Following each character individually, most of the speech is delivered as a monologue and there is limited dialogue. The writers do a fantastic job of arranging the speech so the play does not feel segmented. Being set in Durham, anyone who has anything do with the location will have the realisation that every person we pass in the street has their own story. This play reminds viewers that no matter how different our lives are, we share a lot of the same feelings. Sonder is a masterpiece. The entire team should be incredibly proud.
Image credit: Wrong Tree Theatre Company