Despite the appalling and universally negative impact on live theatre, the pandemic has undoubtedly catalysed fresh thinking about the potential of different media to deliver a theatrical experience. While some larger companies have focused on making films of stage productions available, many smaller companies – inevitable more innovative – have been exploring completely new approaches to the process of storytelling.
One such pioneer is Chronic Insanity, a company led by Nat Henderson and Joe Strickland, two Nottingham-based theatre-makers, who set out at the beginning of 2020 to present 12 shows in 12 months, an ambition they had to rethink with the advent of lockdown.
52 Souls, Chronic Insanity’s final show this year, is a bold and imaginative experiment though the underlying concept owes something to the intimacy and unpredictability of immersive theatre from the likes of You Me Bum Bum Train and Punchdrunk. After buying a ticket – available at a range of prices – you are taken to a website where you are invited to draw from a deck of ordinary playing cards.
Each card unlocks a story, presented as a short monologue to the camera by a single actor – and the idea is to work through as many cards as you can in an hour, usually around a dozen. The stories all have some connection to death and mortality but they are told in different ways – including through poetry and puppetry – and it is almost impossible that any two audience members will make the same selection. In this way, the production you experience will be very much yours and yours alone, albeit by chance rather than calculation.
For this reason, it would ruin 52 Souls to identify the stories to be found behind particular cards. However, I can disclose that my journey – my production – included encounters with a rather shouty victim of poisoning and a shady scrap metal dealer on the perils of his trade, as well as an actor who simply reads a note that turned out in real life to be the writer’s final, desperate, cry for kindness.
Among the highlights were a brilliantly acted – and directed – tale told during a teenage sleepover, the explanation of a strange series of drawings buried in a childhood diary, and – perhaps the best of the stories I experienced – an audition that ends in disappointment and frustration.
Almost inevitably given the medium, the production values of 52 Souls are relatively simple. The acting is generally of a high standard though the acoustics are sometimes less than ideal. However, subtle direction and the variety of settings create a genuine sense of theatre and make for an impressive and memorable production.
Tickets for 52 Souls are available at https://chronicinsanity.wixsite.com/12in12 and the production can be viewed on any device with internet access. 52 Souls is available from 24th August 2020 for two weeks until 11.55pm on Sunday the 6th of September.
Review by Louis Mazzini
Using a deck of cards, over the course of an hour the audience draws one by one and tells their computer what cards they’ve picked. Each card delivers a short performance, one per playing card, each from a different performer, that explore death and mortality. The structure places the means of continuing a performance into the audience’s hands and will examine how we react when faced with time running out when we still have more to do. Theatre, poetry, magic, music, puppets, and other performance styles combine in this self-driven, randomly generated variety show about a universal topic that we have both a morbid curiosity and instinctual repulsion for.
Twitter: @CITheatre | Facebook: ChronicInsanityTheatre | Instagram: chronicinsanitytheatre