Listen We’re Family was my first experience in Headphone Verbatim Theatre, a technique recently popularised in the trendy Almeida’s Little Revolution. What better place for my first dalliance in a new theatrical technique than at my favourite theatre in London (or possibly the world?) – Wilton’s Music Hall.
In Verbatim Theatre, the audience is made aware that the actors (donning headphones) are speaking their lines exactly as they hear them from real dialogue in their ears. An interesting concept alone but even more entertaining in Listen We’re Family, a social portrait play about various true life Jewish people and families living in London. Here the technique gave a truthful spontaneity to the characters presented, it was like a new kind of naturalism; each inflection, each cadence in speech was as recorded. Delivery was so real that I almost felt as if the actors WERE the characters they were presenting and I was privy to their initial interviews.
Writers Kerry Shale and Matthew Lloyd should be congratulated for their arrangement of text; the flow of dialogue on stage was very natural and at times very poignant, with separate characters continuing themes from others they were not connected to. Very clever indeed.
The actors portrayed in total 17 different real life characters and stories between them, demonstrating huge versatility. Tom Berish, Debbie Chazen, Kerry Shale (also the co-writer) and Jennie Stoller worked their theatrical socks off in presenting several different people each, fully committing to each role. Stand out performances included Berish’s Nick, an actor in his 20’s living in Old Kent Road (this role was VERY real to me and summed up a lot of young people I have met over the past few years!), Chazen’s super smiley Mandy, mother of the aforementioned Nick, Shale’s spot on old barber with a penchant for a Yiddish word or two and Stoller’s jauntily harrowing “Essex girl” who “never did get divorced.”
I am not Jewish, but I don’t think that is particularly important at all. I understood and connected with the slice of culture being presented to me. It was both engaging and didactic. Perhaps it is because the characters were born from real people, but many of the people portrayed on stage were very familiar to me. Like I mentioned with “Nick” above, I feel like I knew these people. Hasn’t everyone got a friend with a giggly wino mum? Hasn’t everyone encountered an old lady who loves to recount her heyday and hasn’t everyone loved and lost like these people on stage? What I am trying to say is that together Shale and Lloyd and the cast on stage presented a very real slice of life that just about everybody in the UK, let alone the audience, can relate to in some way or another. It was actually kind of beautiful.
The concept, technique and delivery of this show, coupled with some truly talented actors (or should I say impersonators?!) make this show something quite special indeed. If you get the chance to see it at Wilton’s then do; the venue is amazing. If not the show is running at JW3 (Jewish Community Centre London) from 27th October – 9th November.