Identity and communication in all of its variety are at the heart of this beautiful company-devised piece by DELIRIUM – between the characters, refracted through time, and across the bridge that connects stage and audience. Whether through letters, emails or iPad visuals, it’s about how we process our lives in relation to those of others, and the stories we form while doing so.
Beginning in the present day, with a bomb blast that devastates a Mumbai embassy, co-writers Sarah Henley and Kate Robson-Stuart go backwards to 1997 (on the eve of Labour’s election) and forward to a future in which social media has come full circle and actual human interaction is just the latest marketable thing. As the play skips between these different vantage points in time, we follow an outwards ripple effect that encompasses the main suspect in the bombing, his teenage years in Southampton and the life of his daughter in 2028.
Directed by DELIRIUM founder Oliver Kaderbhai – who also takes on the role of the suspected bomber – this frequently haunting production replays the catalysing scene in Mumbai from different perspectives, showing that our changing awareness of an event depends not on a simple shift to truth from falsehood but pivots on the level of information we are able to bring to bear on what we’re watching. ‘Proof’, like memory, is something constructed as much from the blanks as the pieces.
In 2028, Shamaya Blake’s character has built up her father from traces, creating a collage of evil from childhood postcards and, later, newspaper clippings that has paralysed her life and her relationship with her boyfriend (William Hartley). She lives in an inescapably networked world, but is isolated by fears about the legacy of damage she will leave to her unborn child. Meanwhile, in the present, Michelle Luther’s free-spirited Welsh traveller grapples with the fact that the man who may have killed dozens of people also saved her life by hurrying her out of the embassy.
Our world view also shifts depending on where we stand socially and ideologically; and the new dawn of multicultural inclusiveness promised by the election of 1997 looks very different in 2013. It’s a shame, then, that as the play knits its threads together, the political layers of its earliest time period are stripped back in favour of an inter-generational family saga. This is done well, and movingly, but represents a missed opportunity given where the story starts. It results in an ending that, while satisfying in some ways, feels more lightweight than it should.
Where Kaderbhai’s production definitely succeeds is in evoking the transitory and ephemeral nature of time and recollection through a visually poetic mix of choreography and multimedia, adeptly performed by a talented cast playing multiple roles. iPads become hospital monitors and our windows into a world built against a patchwork wall of suitcases and buzzing with activity. It’s a beautifully directed expression of how hard it can be to hold on to the past, or understand it once it’s gone. From where I was sitting, that was the show’s most powerful statement.