Am I Dead Yet?, Bush Theatre

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Originally written for Exeunt.

There’s a strange paradox at the heart of our treatment of death. On the one hand, we’re surrounded by it. 24 hours news channels spew out the numbers, names and circumstances of the dead; an endless stream of murders, casualties, epidemics. But on the other hand, death as a reality unmediated by a screen is shrouded in silence and ritual. Death is everywhere and nowhere.

This is the backdrop to Am I Dead Yet? Making a show “about” death opens up a vast range of possibilities; as someone commented to me after the show, it’s like making a show “about” life. Wisely, then – and a tad ironically, given their name – Unlimited Theatre have established limits to their scope. Their starting point is twofold. Firstly, they acknowledge that particular tight-lipped uneasiness that surrounds death and its invisibility while in plain view. Secondly, they fasten onto the idea that, thanks to advances in medical science, death might now be better thought of as a process – and, increasingly, a reversible process – than as a single moment in time. If our idea of death is changing, they reason, then we’d better start talking about it.

Double act Chris Thorpe and Jon Spooner have multiple strategies for starting that conversation. Part Grim Reaper, part storyteller, part clown, each performer approaches the subject of death with both humour and seriousness. The structure, for the most part, is governed by a pair of interlaced stories and a series of musical interludes. Electric guitar snarls defiance towards death; voices gently, lyrically tell of two coppers finding a severed head, or of a little girl slipping unobserved through a sheet of ice. In between, Thorpe and Spooner offer facts about the process of the body shutting itself down and a guest paramedic performs the best CPR demonstration you’re likely to witness.

The science that Unlimited draw on, while sometimes sounding far-fetched, is – either brilliantly or terrifyingly, depending on your perspective – steeped in research. It is now technically possible to raise people, Lazarus-like, from the dead. But rather than looking too closely at the science itself, Unlimited are more interested in what this might mean for us as human beings – not medically, but psychologically, socially, politically. Most compellingly, they raise the all too plausible possibility of a society stratified according to access to life-extending technology. What happens when death is no longer a reality for one portion of humanity?

Rather than penetrating much deeper into any of the ideas they raise, however, Unlimited leave the extra mental legwork to us. Small details open up spaces for thought: the involuntary laugh of a policeman clutching a human head prompts reflections on our often unpredictable emotional responses to death, while the possibility of snatching people back from the dead provokes an unspoken question about what happens to that part of ourselves that makes us who we are. It’s refreshing – if a little scary – to have the room for this kind of thinking created in public.

Still, some of the individual threads could be pulled a little further; as it currently exists, certain elements of the show feel as though they stop just short of the idea they are reaching towards. Or perhaps that’s the point. There is, however, something appealing and surprisingly optimistic about creating a communal space in which we might be able to begin confronting and talking about death. And if we can get better at dying, maybe we can get better at living too.

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All Change Festival

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Originally written for Exeunt.

Within minutes of arriving at the Lyric Hammersmith, I’m climbing into bed with a stranger. Not quite the start I anticipated my Fun Palaces weekend getting off to, but it’s indicative of the playfulness embedded at the heart of the All Change Festival. As Eve Leigh, one of the directors of the festival, tells me, they are interested in work that acknowledges and plays with its own theatricality, exploring the boundaries between genres and forms.

The bed and the stranger are part of The Sleep Project, a one-on-one performance currently being developed by Theatre Absolute. Within moments of awkwardly sliding under the duvet, my bedfellow begins to talk about his chronic insomnia, a sleeplessness that seems to be symptomatic of a broken world. It begins as a monologue, but the edges of the theatrical contract shift and blur, eventually making space for an airing of my own insomniac tendencies. As we’re already sharing a bed, it seems oddly churlish not to be frank in my replies.

It’s a tiny little sliver of a performance, lasting only a few minutes and imparting the same sort of fleeting yet haunting thoughts that occupy that hallucinatory territory between waking and sleep. Theatre Absolute might not smash down any boundaries when it comes to intimate performance – and the way in which they make space for the responses of their solo audience members could still do with a little work – but it’s a gentle introduction to what can be for many an alien and intimidating form.

The same goes for other offerings at the festival. Taking up the philosophy of Fun Palaces, the programming has set out to appeal to as wide and varied an audience as possible, taking in everything from magic tricks to storytelling to a (sadly soggy, as it turned out) bouncy castle. Often, as with genre-defying late night offerings from Patrick Simkins and MiM and Gideon Reeling, a sense of the event is built into work that is part theatre, part music and lots of other parts besides, with the hope of bringing in and surprising new audiences.

On Friday night, the collaboration between artist Patrick Simkins and music producer MiM attempts to cultivate the atmosphere of a gig or club night, using a thumping and occasionally euphoric soundtrack to underscore a comment on the digital culture of sharing. As projected social media images flash up on a screen of paper, audience members are invited to trace over the outlines, which change faster than we reluctant artists can move our sticks of charcoal across the surface. Our overlapping scrawls create two improvised pieces of art that speak messily but eloquently to the compulsive online documenting of our lives.

Interactivity is also key to Tablesale, Gideon Reeling’s offbeat piece on the second night of the festival. In this case, however, the mashing up of different genres and elements leads to confusion – not least about the role of the audience. There’s plenty of standing up, moving around and cheering, as well as some fun with chocolate mice and shots of unidentified alcohol, but it doesn’t quite add up to the promised immersive experience. The show itself, meanwhile, lampoons too many targets at once, leaving everyone in a bit of a muddle. But at least we all go home with a prize.

Back in time to Friday evening, the Lyric cafe. Hastily eating a packet of crisps in lieu of dinner, I watch the space begin to fill up as darkness falls outside. Waiting for the start of Josh Coates’ Particles, it begins to feel for the first time that day that we really are part of a festival, rather than just a clutch of individuals wandering from attraction to attraction around the Lyric. Staging work in the cafe helps too, taking it out of a strictly theatrical space and into a social, informal one.

Particles works perfectly for this setting. Coates’ show is part theatre, part storytelling, part stand-up, all held together by little more than his own ability as a performer. Luckily, Coates is all ease and warmth, lightly switching from careful narration to freewheeling audience address. At the centre of it all is a repeated tale about one man and his seemingly small decisions, opening out into musings on everything from chaos theory to British politics. It feels light while touching on weighty subject matter and somehow, somewhere along the way, it cheerfully battles apathy with optimism.

Given that Particles is all about people and possibilities (and particles, of course), it seems absolutely fitting that it should be performed in these surroundings, where all that is required is speakers and listeners. It follows another storytelling piece, Ingrid Who Quarrelled with Nøkken, with a less successful approach. Storyteller Kristen Blakstad is not short of talent, but her Norwegian folklore inspired tale feels calculated more to showcase her huge range as a performer than to envelope us in the narrative. There’s plenty of physical invention, but to what purpose?

Then again, there doesn’t always need to be a reason for telling stories. On Sunday afternoon, I’m persuaded to join a story making session in a corner of the Lyric cafe, where a small group of us make up ludicrous tales through a process of play. The game involves a title as a starting point and then a free choice of yes or no questions from all participants, yielding increasingly ridiculous narrative twists. It’s like a deliciously silly, extended version of Consequences and has me laughing more than anything else at the festival. It feels like a game Joan Littlewood would approve of. Everyone a storyteller.

 

“What’s art without a bit of wank?” quips Hofesh Shechter. The choreographer, who has spent the last 45 minutes or so of this rainy Saturday afternoon talking about the challenges and intricacies of his creative process, also has the good humour to laugh about it. Yes, this is serious, but it’s a little bit wanky too. And that’s OK.

This conversation, which delves into fascinating depth in its discussion of how Shechter works (apparently it’s a lot like being a tennis player – the isolation, the need to motivate oneself without external assistance), represents one end of the wide spectrum that Leigh and fellow organisers Rachel Parish and Cristina Catalina have curated. At the other end, it’s refreshing to see popular forms given a slight twist and, on the most basic of levels, done well. After long hours I’ll never get back watching excruciating improv comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s a delight to see Nelson David and Chris Rowe do improvisation so effortlessly and often hilariously in Unexpected Human in Bagging Area on Friday evening.

Similarly, I’d be unlikely to see an illusionist under normal circumstances, but Philipp Oberlohr completely wins me round on Saturday night. Chatting to Megan Vaughan afterwards, she suggests that Fun Palaces is doing as much to ground and confound art snobs as it is to coax others into new cultural experiences. As for the latter, it’s hard to tell whether All Change succeeds in that aim of the Fun Palaces manifesto. Family oriented events during the day seem to hook in a larger, more varied audience, whether it’s to gasp at giddying Parkour from the Urban Playground Team or lie in a hammock watching the world go by as part of the Institute for Crazy Dancing’s Lifeboat, but in the evening the participation seems to thin, leaving more of the usual suspects.

One event for which the space is bursting at the seams, however, is the Chris Thorpe and Barrel Organ double bill in the rehearsal room on Saturday night. Both prove – more so than Vacuum Theatre’s messy, muddled Something for Nothing the following day – that sometimes you don’t need much more than bodies and voices in a room to make astonishing theatre. Thorpe once again works wonders with just text, voice and microphone, telling a meandering and many layered tale in High Speed Impact. Test Number One. Thoughts and associations fold into one another, making this short piece much more complex and knotty than it might initially seem.

Barrel Organ’s Nothing, meanwhile, encompasses a huge amount while using very little. It’s now the third time I’ve seen this collection of interlaced monologues, but again it offers new facets, new links to trace between the separate speeches. And because the piece is performed from within the audience, with a newly improvised structure each night, there is always an edge of the unexpected. In this setting, it sends tangible ripples through the audience each time a new performer speaks from among the crowd, completely fitting the formally playful bill outlined by All Change.

Central to the Fun Palaces ethos is making work with the local community as well as just for them. Daytime workshops aside, All Change is arguably a little light on this, but offerings from Fleur Alexander and Hannah Nicklin put the stories of local people at their centre. Alexander’s Wagging Dog Tales takes us away from the Lyric and out into the surrounding streets of Hammersmith, on a walk punctuated with stories shared by local dog walkers. The concept is simple, but it’s the form that really lifts it. In the same way that dogs act as a connection between people, sparking rare conversations between strangers in a busy, atomised city, all of us on the walk are soon chatting easily between stories. Sometimes all it takes is the invitation.

The invitation to offer stories, however, can be harder to accept. As I talk to Alexander on the way back to the Lyric after Wagging Dog Tales, she tells me that many of the people she met were reluctant to speak to her at first, and when they did they often felt that they had nothing to tell. It reminds me of similar experiences that Nicklin has shared in the past. As she puts it, capitalism has stolen our stories to sell them back to us, leaving us with the sensation of being empty handed. What of worth could we possibly have to say?

Songs for Breaking Britain, the piece that Nicklin closes the festival with, defies the media’s lucrative monopoly on our narratives. This punk storytelling show weaves together stories that Nicklin has collected in Bradford, Stockton, South London and now Hammersmith, putting them to music and demanding that we listen to them. It’s funny, compassionate, heartbreaking and very, very loud. I’m reminded a little of the angry, ear-splitting blast of sound that is #TORYCORE, but here the righteous rage – rather appropriately following an open invitation to rant – is just one layer.

“It’s hard to be human, isn’t it?” That one line, uttered by a woman Nicklin spoke to in Stockton, lodges somewhere in my chest during the show. There is lots that is difficult in the show; the voices that Nicklin has collected speak of unemployment, of despair, of fear and lack of inspiration. But there is also joy and hope and huge generosity. This extends to the gig style performance of the piece, which gathers audience members around Nicklin and her band at the centre of the room. And it feels absolutely in keeping with the spirit of both Fun Palaces and All Change. Yes, it’s hard to be human. But it’s that little bit easier when we try being human together.

Photo: Aenne Pallasca.

Rachel Chavkin: Riding the Elephant

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Originally written for Exeunt.

For a theatremaker whose work has a distinctly American flavour, Rachel Chavkin has a surprisingly close relationship with British theatre. The artistic director of The TEAM, a company who have made a name for themselves interrogating modern American identity, was last over here with Mission Drift, which had its first London run at The Shed last summer after premiering on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011. When we speak, she is in Newcastle for rehearsals of her new stage version of Catch 22 at Northern Stage; other ongoing projects include a collaboration with Chris Thorpe and a new TEAM show being made in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland.

“It’s the culture of theatre here,” Chavkin explains the continuing appeal. In contrast to American theatres, which rarely have in-house bars or restaurants, she is drawn to the community that gathers around theatres in this country, where people meet to socialise and extend the conversations started on the stage. “The idea that the theatre is a building of culture and life has had a huge influence on my work with The TEAM and my sense of what I want theatre to be doing in the world.”

For her latest project, however, Chavkin is making work for British audiences without the company of The TEAM. The idea of adapting Catch 22 for Lorne Campbell’s first main stage season as artistic director of Northern Stage was first suggested in early conversations about the programme, as it emerged that Chavkin had long nurtured an interest in Joseph Heller’s novel. When they discovered that Heller himself had already written a stage adaptation of the book, Chavkin was the obvious choice for director.

She describes the novel, which follows the nightmarish experiences of Captain John Yossarian during the Second World War, as an “extraordinary piece of philosophy and absurdism”. The novel offers a formidable challenge in its presenting of events out of sequence, mirroring the rule of its title in its circular, repetitive structure. It is the book’s more philosophical strands that Chavkin hopes her production can draw out, conveying the “feeling of existential despair” that the narrative builds to.

“The sense of purgatory, of Yossarian caught in this kind of purgatorial loop, that’s the driving idea behind this production and behind the staging,” Chavkin explains. While Heller’s script brings with it certain limitations, she tells me that “the back story and wealth of worlds that Heller presents in the novel has a profound impact on how we’re able to understand the play”. The novel is informing how she presents the “space around the text” and has influenced an aesthetic which contrasts an atmosphere of celebration and fun with the unremitting devastation of conflict. “War is great, other than the war part.”

The advantage of the novel is that, despite not being able to directly consult the writer about the production, there are pages upon pages of additional material available at Chavkin’s fingertips. In this sense, she suggests, “you sort of do have the writer with you”. Chavkin explains that as a freelance director she is more accustomed to working with writers on new plays, a practice that has increasingly fed into the way she creates work with The TEAM.

“When The TEAM was first beginning to create, and for many years of our company’s life, we would always try to fix problems by rewriting them,” Chavkin recalls. “We always turned to writing first and foremost if something didn’t make sense to us. And actually now I have become much more protective of each individual writer’s contribution within The TEAM. Because as a freelance director I have to protect a new writer or a new play all the time, from both myself and the actors, who just may not understand it yet. Sometimes it means that there should be a rewrite, but very often it means there’s some different logic at work in a play and you just have to work a little bit harder to understand that.”

While Chavkin’s different creative processes have points of convergence, she also discusses contrasts between her work as a freelance director and her projects with The TEAM. Whereas The TEAM’s process tends to be “very gnarly and pretty horizontal”, there is a much clearer hierarchy in place when Chavkin is directing elsewhere, though she stresses that she is still “deeply interested in what the acting company and designers might bring to a show”.

Chavkin is working in a slightly different way again on Confirmation, her current project with Chris Thorpe. It is being written by Thorpe, but as director Chavkin has been deeply involved in the research and development of the show. The piece, which is going up to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, investigates confirmation bias – the unconscious bias that leads us to interpret the world around us in ways that support our existing beliefs. Chavkin describes it as “a very aggressive force in our lives” and discusses how eye-opening their research has been.

“The image that a lot of the research uses is the rider and the elephant,” she says, explaining that the rider represents the conscious, rational brain, while the elephant is our unconscious. “The elephant is a much, much larger force than the rider, and the idea is that the rider can to a certain degree guide which way the elephant wants to go, but actually in most cases our rational brain exists to try to explain and justify to ourselves why the elephant is doing what it’s doing. The most surprising thing is the degree to which we are governed by our unconscious.”

It is going to be a busy Edinburgh Fringe for Chavkin this year, who is also presenting a workshop performance with The TEAM and the National Theatre of Scotland. The new collaboration between the two companies indirectly approaches the question of Scottish independence, exploring the national mythologies of both Scotland and the USA. Using the Scottish Enlightenment as its starting point, it traces the journey that the ideas emerging out of that era have made over the years, right up to the present day.

“The idea is that America was this place where all the ideas coming out of the Scottish Enlightenment actually got, like a petri dish, to act upon,” says Chavkin. “350 years later, I think America is finding itself in a somewhat bankrupt place with this radical misunderstanding of what Adam Smith wrote as our national religion, in terms of this incredibly unfettered capitalism.”

Talk of unfettered capitalism recalls Mission Drift, which took an epic, breakneck ride through 400 years of American history, from the earliest settlers to the twinkling spires of Las Vegas. There is undeniably a certain continuity that can be traced in The TEAM’s thinking, from the research into disaster capitalism that informed Architecting through to this latest project. “I think that’s a common theme in all our work,” Chavkin admits. “Something that comes up as an idea in one piece ends up developing and shifting and morphing into the germs of what inspire the next piece.”

Chavkin makes it clear that the new show, tentatively titled Scottish Enlightenment Project, is not explicitly dealing with the Scottish independence referendum and will not appear in its finished form until after the vote, which is a very deliberate decision. But again, as with so much of her work, it asks the questions that sit right at the heart of national identity. “Who do we want to be? What kind of democracy do we want to be? What are our values?”

Dark Magic

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Originally written for Exeunt.

No jingling sleigh bells or yells of “he’s behind you” at Northern Stage this Christmas. Dark Woods, Deep Snow, the theatre’s main stage Yuletide show, is certainly festive, but perhaps not in ways that theatregoers have come to anticipate at this time of year. Think less Santa, more magic. “It’s not what an audience will expect coming into a Christmas show,” admits director Lorne Campbell, “but also it’s got all the things that an audience can and should expect coming into a Christmas show; they’re just a little bit in disguise.”

Dark Woods, Deep Snow is Campbell’s first main stage production at the helm at Northern Stage, testing the new artistic director’s commitment to staging work that is large scale, exciting and powerfully local. While his debut might be a family Christmas show, typically seen as a low risk staple of the yearly programme, for Campbell this is the perfect challenge to create a theatre that is at once “populist and sophisticated”.

“We’ve tried to do something really ambitious,” he tells me. “The production is massive, it’s non-naturalistic, it’s visually – I think – absolutely stunning.” For the show, Campbell has brought together a group of artists, including writer Chris Thorpe, designer Garance Marneur and choreographers and performers RashDash, whose “spirit of experimentation” he wanted to free from studio theatres and unleash on a bigger stage. The hope was to retain the mischief and ingenuity, but expand the scale.

This marriage of experiment and scale, tradition and reinvention, is immediately evident at the level of the show’s plot. Charged with creating a narrative that was rooted in this time of year without conforming slavishly to Christmas show conventions, Thorpe was immediately drawn to the idea of stories. He was intrigued by “why there’s this urge in us to get together at this time of year, when the nights are the darkest, and try and turn things around and tell each other stories”.

Captivated by the image of tales shared at the fireside, and drawing inspiration from the story gathering project undertaken by the Brothers Grimm, Thorpe dreamed up a group of characters who live at the edges of the human world, in the “infinitely large forests outside of the human reality, where the stories go after we’ve told them to each other”. Here, they collect the narrative refuse of human society, piecing together the once upon a times and happily ever afters.

“The idea is that there’s a group of characters who have been engaging with these stories for as long as humanity has been telling them,” Thorpe explains, “almost behind the scenes of our reality, and they have observed the way that we tell them, but they themselves aren’t necessarily human. I think that’s a really interesting perspective to have on it.”

As an audience joins this group of characters at the start of the show, human stories are under threat from an external force that wants to rob these narratives from our universe, setting up a classic scenario of conflict and peril. Campbell describes it as a “big, exciting, what’s-going-to-happen-next adventure”, with a “big heart of narrative underneath it”.

While driven by a strong central narrative, however, the show simultaneously operates on a number of levels. As Thorpe explains, his invention has allowed him to incorporate both the familiar and the surprising, as fragments of well known stories meet the strange world of the characters he has created. “And also, because you’re not just retelling old stories in a show like this, it allows you to bring a whole bunch of people into the theatre and ask the questions that theatre is really about,” he goes on. “It’s really focused on everyone coming to the theatre and having a brilliant time, but it’s nice that it also links into what the theatre is there for year round; this place where we can all come and we can all share an experience that isn’t replicable in any other medium and we can all ask questions.”

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These subtle layers equally apply to Marneur’s set design, which couples the recognisable, magical aesthetic of the forest with other unexpected, dazzling and occasionally dark elements. “Our styles are all quite dark,” Marneur says of the creative team. “They appear very beautiful at first, but once you dig a little bit deeper there’s always a second layer, a third layer that gets you to ask questions and provokes you. So the forest is the magical forest of a Christmas show, but it’s also diving into one’s subconscious. And of course that’s a beautiful place to be, but it’s also a very scary place to be. As a festive performance, one might not want to go into those dark places. So keeping the high vibe of the Christmas show with such heavy content and such existential questions being asked was my biggest challenge.”

This begs the question of what a Christmas show really needs. When I put this to Campbell, he pauses for a moment. “Joy, scale, chaos, irreverence,” he eventually answers. Thorpe also points to the spirit of Christmas theatre rather than its explicit themes or imagery, referring to a “feeling of coming together at this time of year to do something celebratory and exciting”. While insisting that he’s not trying to “de-Christmasify” the Christmas show, he adds that “it’s not necessarily about saying ‘hey kids, it’s Christmas’, because the entire world is saying ‘hey kids, it’s Christmas’ at this time of year”.

Getting away from the iconography of Christmas might not have been difficult for Thorpe and his fellow theatremakers, but creating a theatrical language that speaks to both old and young has proved to be more of a challenge. Thorpe, who is more accustomed to writing for adult audiences, is adamant that it is not about adjusting down to the children in the audience – “there isn’t a down, there isn’t a hierarchy”. It is instead about “simply and honestly just saying what you think” and finding common ground.

One way to do this is to recapture the thrill and imagination of childhood for all members of the audience, an aim that was essential to Marneur’s design. She describes her set, an otherworldly maze of towering white trees, as a “flexible playground” for the performers to explore. It is also a playground that can be transformed through the art of projection, allowing Marneur to “play with the audience’s perception of the forest” and conjure some of the magic of the fairytale – a form that translates across all ages, just as the show hopes to.

“It’s hopefully a very accessible family show,” Campbell stresses, “but simultaneously it’s a very sophisticated bit of theatre that’s taking its aspiration very seriously, while being irreverent and ridiculous and funny and fantastical and all of those things at once.” None of this, he adds, is specific to Christmas; as always, they are “just trying to make a really great, exciting bit of theatre”.

There is, however, a certain responsibility that the creative team acknowledge towards audiences who might only attend one show a year at Christmas. Realising that this is the first contact many children have with theatre, Thorpe emphasises that “you’ve got to make that count for them”. He and his collaborators also recognise the unique opportunity they have to attract and engage new audiences by demonstrating that theatre is something they can enjoy all year round. Convince them at Christmas, and they might keep coming back.

“It’s for life,” says Thorpe, “it’s not just for Christmas.”

What I Heard About the World, St Stephen’s

Originally written for Exeunt.

What do you think of when someone mentions Brazil? Israel? How about Korea? The concept behind this collaboration between Third Angel, mala voadora and Chris Thorpe is born from the partial knowledge that we can now boast about all the far-flung corners of the world, dinner party trivia that slots together into a fragmented vision of the globe. As Thorpe puts it, “the more we know, the bigger the world gets”, and the more knowledge is accumulated, the more that the gaps in our knowledge glare out at us.

Creating a colourful theatrical map, Thorpe, Third Angel’s Alexander Kelly and mala voadora’s Jorge Andrade relate stories and quirky snippets of facts from around the world, communicated through direct narration, through pen-scrawled pictures, through roughly assembled sketches and through electric guitar accompanied music. Eschewing the indifferent wisdom of statistics, their charming and disturbing anecdotes all veer on the wacky side of odd, from cardboard cut-out figures issued by the American military to the families of servicemen and women, to a confession hotline that promises to cleanse you of your sins at a reasonable rate.

It rapidly becomes clear that what all of these stories share is their focus on artificiality. In a newspaper in Singapore, the editors photoshop suits onto obituary photographs; in Brazil you can hire mourners, while in Germany paid-for protestors are a booming commodity. Most staggeringly, a couple in Korea allowed their own baby to starve to death because they were so fixated on caring for their virtual child that they forgot they had a real one. Everywhere, it seems, signs and substitutes abound, and anything can be bought if you know who to call. The piece skilfully traces a map of an increasingly connected yet dislocated globe, around which revolves a Baudrillardian precession of simulacra.

As a backdrop to this carousel of eccentricity, the stage at St Stephen’s is packed with paraphernalia both homely and exotic – an apt accompaniment to the driving thoughts behind the piece. A fish tank and a sofa sit in the same space as a poolside life-belt and a paper plane, speaking of a yearning for both adventure and hearth. It is, as the piece recognises, essential to our self-identity to have a sense of place, a sense of place that is as much defined by stories of the “other” as it is by the idea of home.

As Thorpe, Kelly and Andrade repeatedly emphasise, the stories they tell are all true, collected through a formidable process of research and reassembled in different formulations for each of the show’s incarnations, but the very theatricality of the piece inherently begs us to question this truth. And, of course, we are right to. For these can only ever be constructions of the truth, ephemeral simulacra in the same way as the photoshopped suits or the donkeys painted as zebras in Gaza zoo. As soon as a piece of information is passed on, it gains a new identity, clothed in a thin film of fiction.

Yet, as inaccurate and incomplete a cartography as they draw, there is something oddly comforting about the stories that this production collects in cupped hands. As one woman from the anecdotes recognises, stories are a way of staying alive, of passing down a legacy that might cross mountain ranges and oceans. Simple facts, like national borders, can melt, change and die away, but stories are ever present.