The Greenhouse Theatre had a previous season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019. Like many others, I enjoyed the Fringe that year, but the festival, as it was run in pre-pandemic times, used a huge amount of paper, not only through its insistence on paper tickets (one would hope the Fringe has discovered what a QR code is by now), but mostly on the sheer number of flyers for the 3,000+ plus productions being distributed throughout central Edinburgh. There are sections of the Royal Mile where, depending on the time of day, it wasn’t possible in festival season to walk more than a few feet without someone trying to hand you a flyer. And some of the flyer distributors can be quite aggressive, or at least unwilling to understand the meaning of ‘No’.
Everyone at the Greenhouse Theatre, meanwhile, enjoying a London season in 2021, was friendly and distinctly un-pushy. There were no paper issued at the box office, no flyers about other productions, and no paper programmes. The team is so committed to sustainable practices that I didn’t see a paper recycling bin on the premises, because there was no paper to be recycled. How’s that for innovative thinking?
The audience is sat on wooden benches, which admittedly get increasingly uncomfortable, especially when watching a show like 12, which runs for close to 100 minutes without an interval. I wonder if repeat visitors may choose to bring their own cushions. The show itself sees Leyon Stolz-Hunter and Ayesha Milner-Glover play characters that have given names, ascribed to one another, but as they are described only as ‘A’ and ‘B’ in the cast list I will keep faith with the production and stick rigidly to those.
Memory loss can and does occur for any number of reasons, such as an injury to the brain resulting from a road traffic collision, or, as the NHS website puts it, “a natural part of getting older”. The scenario portrayed in 12, however, affects quite a lot of people at the same time, as though some kind of (ahem) global pandemic had spread through a proportion of the population at large, wiping their memories.
B is particularly adversely affected. Except – and this is where the narrative gets more than a little contrived – she has an archive of audio recordings as well as the usual photos and videos. It’s not quite on the same level as Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape – salient events are spoken about rather than every minute detail. There is an impressive amount of emotional depth, given the various communication barriers between A and B. On several occasions, one of them doesn’t respond at all to the other’s direct request for a response, but it would seem what isn’t said can sometimes ‘speak’ as much as what is discussed.
B finds herself trying to relearn everything, and the devastating and permanent impact on what was a thriving life and relationship with A becomes evident. It can sometimes be a difficult watch, and the play also provides commentary on what is going on in the wider world in this bizarre dystopian future. There are some props, but very little in the way of set, and while proceedings are sufficiently well described and dramatized, there’s a feeling of ‘back to basics’, visually speaking, when the seaside looks the same as B’s family home.
The play feels too long and too repetitive, with the same points being made on several occasions as though this were a 24-hour news channel. These are convincing performances, and perhaps some relatability for many in terms of either being misunderstood or otherwise not quite being able to articulate what one really wants to say. But I found it difficult to feel too invested in a story about two people who, despite life’s challenges, were always going (at least in my mind) to find a way to muddle through one way or another.
The circumstances may be unique, and possibly even the stuff of science fiction. At least neither A nor B are crying over spilled milk. But in the end, who isn’t just trying to make the best of things?
Review by Chris Omaweng
Exploring memory, language and intimacy, 12 follows a relationship as it struggles to stay together in a world that’s falling apart. 12 invites us to consider: what’s the value of memory in a world in crisis? Do we lose our sense of self as we lose the natural world? Most importantly, 12 asks, in the midst of an emergency, what are the things worth saving?
Leyon Stolz-Hunter a
Ayesha Milner-Glover b
Henry Roberts Writer
Lata Nobes Director
Maria Petitti Assistant Director
Cate Hanlon Producer
Anna Webb-Sanchez Designer