Friday, August 06, 2021

Through the Window – a new twist with a step change in sound design to tell stories across the generations (Three's Theatre Company)

Three’s Theatre Company came up with a new twist for their latest production. Regular attendees of their work would have been well used to donning individual headphones and traipsing around buildings, up and down staircases, and in and out of rooms to hear the often unexpected thoughts of actors placed in often unexpected situations.

I’ll never forget encountering a woman with a gun in the female toilets of The MAC. Or the couple trying to rip off each other’s clothes in Room 118 of the Bullitt Hotel. But for Through the Window, the headphoned audience walked around the outside of the The MAC, spotting figures framed in the no-two-the-same windows, and tuning into their thinking for five or ten minutes before moving on around the block to the next tableau.

While the end-of-lockdown production Through the Window was only able to be staged over one day (27 July), the quality of the recorded soundscapes was a step improvement on previous work. Binaural sound made many of the experiences immersive, even standing back at much greater distances than normal and separated by a pane of glass.

I gazed up at Geraldine (played by Helena Bereen) flicking through a photo album, and as her fond reminisces flowed, I built up an intimate picture of her love and loss. If anything, the added distance kept visual prompts to a minimum, leaving my imagination to run riot, and my tear ducts free to express empathy for the sadness in her voice and her relationship. Stirring that kind of feeling at such distance isn’t easy.

Perhaps the most dramatic vignette allowed the audience to listen in to the thoughts of a couple texting. At first we could only gauge Ali’s reaction (Catherine Reece) to the persistent notifications, before a second voice entered our headphones and another figure (Mark, Conor O’Donnell) could be seen at an overlooking window. Suddenly, the last five minutes of messaging took on a more sinister feel.

Another triumph was the more humorous Andrea (Mary Francis Loughran) sorting her baby clothes at a high up window, neatly referencing the kind of people who might be looking in her window and triggering the voyeuristic audience down on the street below!

And, as is tradition, the promenade performance finished with a gorgeous dance from Lizi Watt.

Some of the stories worked better than others. Some of the movement was more impacting than others. Some of the framing against the windows suited the elevations better than others. And it drizzled. But overall, none of that mattered. An hour was spent outside in the fresh air in company, with a series of stories playing out in a layered soundscape that was encouraged – and designed – to take centre stage.

Hats off to Anna Leckey’s vision, Colm Doran’s direction, Conal Clapper’s mastery of sound and radio headphone transmitters, and Elisha Gormley’s stage management to keep theatre alive even when it was impossible to enter inside the venue. And praise too for not just turning the handle and putting on something similar to before, but for having the ambition to make a step change with the quality of the sound design and presenting a set of stories that spanned the generations.

Three’s Theatre Company will be back in East Side Arts Festival with a chance to finally figure out what’s the one sitting in front of you in the bus is thinking. They’ll be on board the hydrogen bus for A Simple Journey on Sunday 15 August.

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