“Who do you feel you used to be?”
Proving that there are indeed no unfunny stories about Shania Twain, Yve Blake & Co’s Then has been delighting audiences all week long in the oven that is the Soho Theatre upstairs so I was pleased to be able to sneak into the final show of the run. Blake set up a website called whowerewe.com, invited the world to respond to the above question and then fashioned a show out of their answers, something that sits somewhere between performance art, stand-up, musical theatre and straight-up play.
The collage that she has created is entertaining, endearing, even enlightening. Bouncing off the collaborative energy from video designers Rosa Nussbaum and Joel Enfield, musical director Alex Groves and designer Naomi Kuyck-Cohen, Blake bounds onto the stage with an effervescence that never flags as she sings, dances and goofs her way through the memories that people have elected to share – the childhood dreams, the embarrassing photos, the bewildering confessions of youthful naïveté right through to more moving anecdotes of later life.
Then is undoubtedly better when it focuses on the light-hearted – the careful posing for childhood photos in case of later celebrity, the fraternal bond that transcended even a bitten penis, the trials of teenage courting, the sheer variety of the crowd-sourced material managing the dual feat of sheepish recognition but also the very uniqueness of everyone’s life experience. Profundity comes naturally through the sterling work here from Blake and dramaturg Georgia Symons which thus means when the piece deliberately strains for it later on, it’s not quite as effective.
The final sequence is brilliant though as Blake returns to the cheeky spirit of the opening to ask the question ‘what would we tell our younger selves if we could’. Her wonderfully inclusive manner makes it a warmly inviting experience that will be well worth visiting if the show pops up again and who knows, maybe you should add your stories to the mix as well.