I must declare an interest in this review. Spot On commissioned Common Lore in 2017 as part of our strategic touring project in Lancashire and Cheshire libraries, It was a challenging brief, a show that would appeal to 16 to 25 year olds and work in libraries.
Commissioned by Spot On, developed in partnership with Northern Broadsides and funded by ACE, I saw the preview in Halifax´s dank viaduct theatre last week. It is touring across some northern rural touring schemes this autumn and available to tour again in 2019.
Scarlet is 18 and trying to work out what she’s going to do with her life. She’s waiting for a bus. She’s off to see her gran. Her gran who tells her stories, old stories. The old folk and fairy stories that we all know. While she waits Scarlet tells us three of these stories with her own 18 year old 21st century spin.
The piece was written and performed by Sophia Hatfield of Stute Theatre in rhyming couplets, the style of renaissance theatre, but in the mouth of an 18 year old from a Manchester suburb it sounds modern and contemporary. Sophia is a bit older than 18 but has no trouble convincing the audience.
One woman, a backdrop, an electric violin, and a load of cardboard boxes. Just one woman on the road with a set and props that fit into her Citroen C1, yet this show brings a host of surprising and brilliantly integrated technology. This is not just one woman in a chair telling stories. It is energetic, fast moving and enthralling to watch. The music is live created with voice, the violin and a loop pedal. There is simple but effective back projection, all controlled from the stage by the mobile phone that never leaves an 18 year old´s fist. Sophie superbly keeps Scarlet´s voice throughout the music and storytelling. Even when she’s playing other characters in the tales, you believe that it is 18 year old Scarlet personalising the young woman seeking a boyfriend in Mr F, the feuding brothers in ´the wise girl´ or Ash, the girl from the chip shop in ´red fish´.
I, and at least half of the audience at the preview, no longer fit into the 16 to 25 demographic (and have not done so for some time). This in no way diminished the enjoyment. Good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter the age of the character telling the story. The authentic voice that Sophia has found for Scarlet, through extensive research with young ´library hacks´ in Accrington, and Lancashire´s library apprentices is superbly portrayed. The struggles that 18 year olds face in a northern Britain 2018 are also reflected in Scarlet´s own narrative. This is a political piece, with a small ´p´. Sophia uses these three stories to reflect on what it is like to be an unwealthy 18 year old in the north, yet it is done with wit, humour and sophistication. Students, apprentices, grandparents and anyone else who was ever 18 will love this piece and take Scarlet to their hearts.
Commissioned for libraries, this is a compact piece that will fit any space with the an electric socket. It does not need a blackout or lighting rig. It´s remarkable that one woman in Citroen C1 can arrive at any venue and bring such magic. See it or book it while you can.