The theme of displacement has become increasingly topical in recent years, largely as a result of the intense media coverage of the refugee crisis. It’s important to remember, however, that displacement didn’t start there; it’s been happening for centuries, all across the world – and its effects are often felt down the generations.
Such is the case for Miriam Gould and Judita Vivas, also known as Double Trouble, the creators and performers of Adventures in Black and White. Inspired by their grandparents’ diaries, this is the story of Stasys and Lilly – the former exiled as a child from Lithuania to Siberia, the latter sent to England from Austria on the Kindertransport. But it’s also the story of Judita and Miriam, and of all those trying to figure out where they fit within a world that seems ever more obsessed with the invisible borders between nations.
The show combines projected images, improvisation and physical theatre to tell these stories, and as a result it becomes an intriguing mix of poignant and bizarre. Some anecdotes are related in a straightforward way through the reading of letters or diary entries, or in one case a simple monologue direct to the audience, delivered with the help of a particularly appealing visual aid (which only slightly softens the blow of the story’s tragic conclusion). These memories are often supported by photos of the real people involved, displayed on an old-school projector which is set up early on in the show, even as the reliability of some of them is called into question; at one point Lilly swears that the letters in her hand aren’t real, despite acknowledging that they contain many accurate facts about her life.
In between these scenes of reminiscence are moments that feel deliberately alienating. One such scene includes many words, but not one of them in English, and though we can get the gist of what’s being said, there’s still an uncomfortable sense that we’re missing something – much as it must feel to arrive in a strange country as a young child. This isn’t the only moment where it’s difficult to say with certainty what exactly is happening, but there’s a playfulness to the performance of these scenes that means we remain engaged and entertained even when we don’t quite know what we’re watching. Poignant and thought-provoking the show may be, but it also has a great sense of humour, found not only in the characters and their stories but also in the interactions of the two performers as they wrestle for the spotlight and our attention.
Much like the two performers’ patchwork outfits, the idea of displacement is portrayed in the show as far more than just a single, universal experience that everyone goes through in exactly the same way. A humorously awkward conversation between Stasys and Lilly reveals that each knows little about what happened to the other; nor are their lives as grandparents in any way similar. Adventures in Black and White shares two families’ stories, whilst reminding us there are many, many more out there waiting to be told – in fact Double Trouble are in the process of collecting these memories from their audiences and others, for a new online archive launching in 2019 as a continuation of their work on this show.
At a time when we’re more aware than ever of the idea of displacement, but still lack so much understanding of what that actually means, this timely and well performed piece provides much needed food for thought*.
Adventures in Black and White was performed at Camden People’s Theatre from 24th-26th October. Catch it again at Applecart Arts as part of Voila! Europe festival on 14th and 16th November.
* And also actual food – although I won’t ruin it by giving away the details…