Writer and performer Yve Blake set up the website WhoWereWe.com to crowd-source content for her latest production, Then, which deals with the idea that each of us are many different people throughout our lifetimes. Receiving 650 emails, voicemails, pictures and playlists, Blake weaves together this set of anonymous vignettes – put variously to song and animation – to create this part-play, part-lecture, part-stand up, part-musical that is by degrees funny and moving if, on occasion, bordering on the twee.
The stories are roughly ordered from childhood to old age, with the first half of the material being clearly the stronger. Dressed as a peroxide blonde Wednesday Addams, Blake bounds on to the stage with a mixed bag of humorous childhood memories, odd ideas about the world and embarrassing confessions. It’s a likeable and energetic first 30 minutes as Blake recounts the stories of adolescent promiscuity, sings songs about bitten penises, changes costumes, gets tangled up in mic leads and cues up projected animations from her Apple laptop. It is – perhaps necessarily so – a scatty show with a scatty set, all cables and wires and discarded bits of old costume.
However, as the show progresses through maturity, weightier ideas are flung at the wall though not all of them stick. Perhaps she didn’t receive enough good material, but the stories in the latter half that explain how one feels ‘new emotions’ once they have a child, or how a child, once sung to sleep by its mother, will grow to one day put the old and infirm mother to bed feel rather dusty. They bring to mind the old Woody Allen line about life not imitating art but bad television. There seems to be a belief, on which all crowd-sourced drama like this are predicated, that if something is true it will result in good art.
And yet Then remains a warm and engaging piece of theatre and an interesting update on an old question: is the self stable or protean? Personally, I would have thought the debate was won years ago – one thinks of Joyce’s Bildungsroman-of-sorts Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – but many of the interviewees in Then struggle with the proposition that they have been different people at different times in their lives. I think Blake is right to revisit it, especially through the lens of the internet and social media, which snapshots a family album not just of pictures, but thoughts and tweets and status updates for prosperity.