Live via Zoom
Lockdown is different things for different people, but we are all connected as individuals in sharing the experience. It is inspiring therefore to see how Estate Endz have used the Coronavirus crisis as a positive opportunity to bring a diverse community together online.
The Search for Freedom in Your Head is a verbatim play based on recordings of residents of Lancaster West Estate during lockdown. For context, this is the estate where the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred. So this is a community that has experience of having its ‘normal’ turned on its head, and trying to manage adversity.
The Estate Endz youth group has undertaken a highly ambitious programme, collecting together interviews with local residents and re-enacting their words as a collective piece. All whilst working remotely under lockdown. I counted at least 14 actors broadcasting in this carefully choreographed sequence of monologues, which must have been a nightmare to cue in!
As each individual speaks, community life continues around them in the Zoom squares. The flickering of boxes on and off, and the movement as they take their places and leave again gives a clever sense of temporal flux; time passing and change occurring both within the limiting space of the screen and of the lockdown.
The perspectives voiced are both varied and interesting. We’re introduced to people from many backgrounds, ages, and cultures. For each monologue we are briefly dropped into a character’s life as they offer an insight into their new normal and their coping methods. Some see opportunities in this enforced break: ironically, our imprisonment can give us a new freedom as lockdown becomes a time to pause, learn new skills, reflect, review and create. Simultaneously, there are also voices of loneliness, conveying a longing for physical proximity that is currently denied. By making others visible around us in the shared space, this production encourages us to acknowledge their struggles and consider the wider community.
The multiple actors do an admirable job in piecing multiple stories together, embodying authentic voices whilst skilfully retaining a feeling of spontaneity. What could be a repetitive stream of faces speaking to camera is varied by the different activities displayed in each home – sometimes with a character just getting up to open the fridge, or move around the room. Moments of beautiful music and singing create additional interest, and I particularly enjoyed the philosophy of “Che Sarà Sarà”. The whole piece is framed within a theatrical montage of movement which helps define this as a performance beyond a straightforward historical archive.
The Zoom format complements the nature of the material, drawing together individual voices from the estate to form an interconnected body. As is often the case with online productions, however, the sound quality was not always at its best and some of the words did get a bit lost at times. To add more polish, it might be interesting to see this piece recorded as a film, à la Talking Heads. Then again, the flawed nature of the Zoom call, with its moments of hesitancy demanding attentiveness from the audience, actually underscores the call for community being created.
Estate Endz have crafted an admirably positive piece from fragments of a crisis, which sensitively captures the humanity and commonality within a challenge shared.
Devised by: SPID Theatre Company/ Estate Endz youth group
Community Producer: Queralt Guinot