Review: Who Do We Think We Are, Southwark Playhouse

“Maybe, just maybe, there is some hope”

Hope indeed, if new theatre company Visible are anything to go by. Gathering together a group of performers to create the only professional British theatre ensemble made up of older actors (60+ if we have to put a number on it) Who Do We Think We Are? sees them work with Sonja Linden to create a tapestry of tales of their considerable lives and experiences which stretch over so many of the key events of the twentieth century.

The concept is simple – the ensemble each work through a telling of their personal histories and given the international make-up of the group, the narrative stretches across the globe as well back to the outbreak of the First World War. As tales of grandparents and parents turn into stories of themselves – sometimes told alone, sometimes assisted by fellow members – the cumulative effect turns into something gently breathtaking in scope, in meaning, in power.

From the concentration camps of Treblinka to the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, from acid trips in the 60s to narrow escapes in Nagasaki, there’s a huge amount in play here and there are times when the narrative just moves on too speedily, hugely fascinating stories over too quickly as we’re soon onto the next. Sue Lefton’s production keeps things simple as we move from performer to performer but there’s still some skilful juxtapositioning that adds to the richness of the experience.

And in a world so focused on youth, and even a theatre ecology that prizes the young, it is a refreshing thing indeed to see the work of this company being showcased and celebrated here. This is no cheesy gimmick but an enterprise full of integrity and through the work of the likes of Ann Firbank, Ruth Posner and Togo Igawa amongst many, it is always engaging. Enhanced by subtle hints of cello and piano composed by Sally Davies which shift the mood from melancholy reflection to the playful hope of the present-day ending and its testament to survival, this is life-affirming work indeed.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 15th November

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