Where will I be a year from now? It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves at some point, particularly at the start of a new year – and the responses often reveal a lot about the person doing the speculating. It’s also impossible to predict; we can say what we’re hoping for, but in reality we never know when life’s going to throw a massive curveball at us – and even if we do get exactly what we think we want, it might turn out not to be quite as we thought it would be.
In RedBellyBlack’s A Year From Now, that question is the launch pad for a series of interviews with fourteen different people, which spin off in all kinds of unexpected directions and which are quite startling, and occasionally even slightly uncomfortable, in their honesty. We share the subjects’ hopes, fears, good news and heartbreak, all of which is interpreted on stage by five performers (Oscar Scott-White, Kate Goodfellow, Clementine Mills, Christopher Montague and Jessica Warshaw) who mouth the words along with audio recordings of the interviews. This is not as odd as it sounds – and I was surprised at how quickly I stopped remembering that the person on stage wasn’t actually the one speaking, even when there was a difference in age or gender. (I even found myself at one point marvelling at how many different accents they’d all mastered…)
Much of this is due to the quality of the performance; each of the five actors is absolutely spot-on with their lip-syncing, down to the tiniest hesitation, laugh, stutter or cough – I can only imagine the hours of rehearsal that have gone into getting every moment of the 60-minute show so totally in sync. In addition, each adopts the body language of the person speaking, from Kate Goodfellow’s bashful four-year-old to Oscar Scott-White’s elegant elderly lady, further enabling us to block out the physical appearance of the speaker and focus instead on their voice and movement, and ensuring that when the same people reappear later in the show, they’re instantly recognisable.
Though each scene takes the same format, there’s sufficient variety in the way they’re presented by director Vicki Baron to keep the show fresh and interesting (and some are separated by slightly surreal dance breaks – the meaning of which, I must admit, wasn’t totally clear to me). Some stories are told by just one person, others by a couple; one scene features four speakers whose stories share a common theme. And each is accompanied by choreographed movements that visually interpret the words we’re hearing, often performed by most or even all of the actors, again in perfect unison. These are striking without being distracting, and at times even quite moving – this is particularly true in the case of a comedian coming to terms with the loss of his mum, “voiced” by Christopher Montague and Jessica Warshaw, who both physically support and are supported by each other as they tell the story.
The original question, “Where will I be a year from now?” doesn’t actually feature heavily in the show, though we eventually circle back around to it at the end with an amusing twist. What it does do, though, is provide a starting point for stories covering everything from ill health to parenthood, perfect eyebrows to work pressures. Each of these accounts is unique, whether it’s a devastating look back at time past, a hopeful view of the year to come, or just an honest description of the way life is right now, and every member of the audience will be able to relate to particular voices more than others. There are a couple of moments when we – perhaps inevitably – veer into political territory, but we never stay there long; the power and heart of A Year From Now lie in its human stories, and it’s these that we take away with us.
A Year From Now is at the VAULT Festival until 29th January.