The People Are Singing by Lizzie Nunnery
Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.04.2017]
A tin tub with some cargo net. Some coloured rope. Three photographs. A tally chart counting nothing. A man lighting candles. A child skipping.
Distant memories of childhood games immerse us in a younger world view in Lizzie Nunnery’s new play. We observe a twelve year old girl, Irina skipping and playing hop scotch. But, at unexpected instances her actions and thoughts are no longer her own – trauma is her puppet master and fear, her strings. This external domination of Irina’s choices only grows as the piece progresses. What starts as an external war to their small home, grows into an indoor war in which Olena (the mother) demands that Irina sing everything away for her, this war lapses when Olena is shot by Dima, a strange man who comes into the house offering safety, food, a ‘home’. A new war is waged as Irina runs away to escape Dima and ends up in a highly original forbidden forest, en route to a freedom she has only ever imagined.
Whilst this piece possesses a strong narrative, it is its physicality, poetry, sound and visual artistry that make it a poignant piece of theatre. Irina’s poetic monologues take us on a harrowing journey in which she begins to question her actions and who their purposes pertain to. These pieces alongside a soundscape that removes the need for specific physical props, gives us a true sense of immersion into this abraded landscape and unsettling forest.
The movements within this piece highlight the characters relationships to the warped world in which they are living and express the proximity in sensation between fear and excited pleasure: each time Irina throws her arms out, are these sensations what she perceives them to be or are they crafted externally. Theses mixed emotions are almost like a replica of the state of uncertainty that arises when you are not sure whether or not you are having a panic attack.
The accompanying strong element of visual arts only builds on this experience. The use of bungee cords (in the colours of the Ukrainian flag) as household items, undergrowth, outdoor games, and a physical expression of both internal and external limitations imposed on us, gives the piece a continued identity – which starkly contrasts with the decomposing identities of all of the characters.
The People Are Singing leaves us questioning ways to respond to wrong doing and whether it is right to do the thing that is most truthful. The snapshot experience we have through a little girl’s eyes also brings us to consider what truly crafts one’s identity in childhood and how this is impeded by the cold light of trauma.