Review: The Place I Call Home Festival

Anything with Sharon D Clarke zumbaing to ‘Sissy That Walk’ has to be worth your time right?! The Place I Call Home Festival explores new writing through new technology in a fascinating way but book now!

“Another day and we’re sat here doing nothing again”

Paines Plough have always been a company to do theatre a bit differently so it is no surprise to see them responding innovatively to the restrictions imposed by coronavirus. The Place I Call Home is a two-week digital festival of new work, taking the opportunity to explore multiple mediums and international collaborations as three new bilingual plays take place across Zoom, email, WhatsApp and good old snail mail.

Pinging daily into WhatsApp, A Brief History of Struggle by Dipo Baruwa-Etti and Calle Fuhr presents 5 minute snapshots of conversations that might be overheard on park benches. Scenes switch between London and Dortmund and span 1928 to 2020 so the whole thing is necessarily quite fragmented. And as engaging some of the segments are, from burgeoning feminist rights to reactions to immense tragedy, there’s little sense of a cumulative dramatic effect to match the novel delivery.

Also directed by Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner, In Tandem takes place over via video and email as daily missives take us from day 19 to day 34 to day 47 in lockdown for two different pairs. Patrycja Durska and Paweł Kumięga play a couple in Kraków figuring out the most worthwhile way to pass time and Sharon D Clarke and Leanne Henlon portray a mother and daughter Zooming from their separate London homes.

Written by Travis Alabanza and Magdalena Zarębska-Wegrzyn, there’s a brilliantly contrasting energy between the two strands. In London, Ella’s concerns start off with her NHS worker mum keeping her plants alive but as PPE runs shorts and headlines run amok, their interactions deepen, their relationship shifting to accommodate the emotional realities of only being able to Zoom. I particularly enjoyed the way Alabanza worked in all kind of humour whilst still excavating with brutal honesty what it is to black in the UK. 

Over in Poland, Zarębska-Wegrzyn follows a more ruminative thread. Martin and Teresa and and their lovely green sofa navigate the pressures that lockdown exerts on their marriage. He’s just happy watching his favourite cooking programme with his favourite cheese sandwich, she wants to seize the opportunity to do something new with their time. Their journey to finding some kind of middle ground is beautifully tender, speaking of a connection that is being revisited and renewed under these strained circumstances.  

With its tighter focus, I’d argue In Tandem is the more affecting piece of the two that I’ve covered here (the third play Posta Aerea is conducted by post and phone and I hope to get a delivery this week!). But regardless, there’s much to admire in the ambition here from Paines Plough, and the opportunities that they’re giving to the many new graduates who are appearing here. Definitely worth investigating.

image credit: Michael Windsor-Ungureanu
Booking for The Place I Call Home Festival ends at 6pm on Monday 2nd November, for shows running until 7th November

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