Leaving the Vault Festival on a dark Thursday night I was suddenly aware of the beauty of the street and how deeply I was capable of breathing. It felt oddly as if, in the preceding sixty minutes, the weight I’d been carrying with me had been soaked up by someone else’s story. Thanks to Beth Bowden and the Right of Way team, I had been reminded of the reason I fell in love with theatre in the first place.
Bowden’s Right of Way is a poetic jewel. Raw and sometimes heartbreaking, the story is told through tangible found items (water, salt, chalk) which are projected and recorded, spoken word, poetry and a mix of movement and monologue. From water to salt to land to path, Bowden takes her captive audience on a deeply personal journey through her life as she explores her connections to powerful bodies of water and the women who have gone before her. For the entirety of the hour-long performance Bowden commands the stage, wading through a world filled with immense joy and deep sorrow, that seems to embrace her (albeit a little too tightly at times) while simultaneously expelling those she loves.
Sat in the audience of the Vault’s Cage I found myself crying, lost in the beauty of Bowden’s words and the all-to-relatable struggle of her story. At times the trains hurtling by overhead even lent themselves to the action onstage. Unfortunately, at other times Bowden’s voice struggled to compete with their roar and for a moment we became untethered from the story. The fact that the only thing capable of pulling the audience away was an element entirely outside of the production team’s control, speaks volumes of the quality of their work.
The play’s use of mixed media is delightful and seamlessly executed. In truth, the entire production exudes meticulous care and attention to detail. No item onstage is without purpose and Bowden interacts with each in turn. First soaking herself in water, she then covers herself in chalk, before turning to the hanging bags of salt that occupy the stage’s four corners, to make a point about chronic illness that truly feels like salt rubbed into an old wound. A couple of times Bowden’s props even find their way into the unsuspecting hands of her audience, although to what extent I’ll leave you to discover yourself.
Right of Way is an hour of beauty, discovery and honesty that will leave you yearning for the taste of salt on your tongue, the feeling of dirt on your fingers, and the freedom of wind in your hair. And, while Right of Way may have finished its current short run at the Vaults, it undoubtedly won’t be the last we see of it.
Created by: Beth Bowden
Creative Producer: Susannah Bramwell
Right of Way played as part of VAULT Festival 2023 and has completed its current run. You can find out more about the show and future dates via their Twitter account here.