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Review of STANDBY FOR TAPE BACK-UP at Soho Theatre

Standby For Tape Back-UpThe human mind is an amazing thing. It apparently never forgets and according to Ross Sutherland in his one-man show “Standby for Tape Back-Up” at the Soho theatre, it spends a lot of its time trying to see patterns in things around it.

Ross, has a VHS videotape that he inherited from his grandfather. For those readers now looking blank, videotapes were the way of recording television and watching films in the days before downloads, streaming, Blu-ray and DVD. They were, literally, very big in the 80s and 90s. This tape that Ross has was sitting in his loft for years and is filled with pieces of programmes and films that evoke many memories of his relationship with his grandfather for him. ‘Ghostbusters’ a movie his grandfather took him to when he was four. ‘The fresh Prince of Bel Air’, ‘Thriller’ and many more. Each piece brings a memory, or a sequence of memories to mind for Ross and he shares them with the audience in a mix of styles. Sometimes just having a conversation, sometimes by a more poetic speech, sometimes rapping along, explaining his thoughts and feelings by going back over the specific piece on the tape and enlarging his comments. Ross is an amazing linguist and has found a superb way to link the various images on the tape with stories from his life – this is demonstrated to magnificent effect with the world’s most irritating advertisement for a bank.

Ross has written a lovely narrative around the video and working with Director Rob Watt has put together a show that grabs the audience’s attention from the moment they walk in and start watching – well, I’m not going to say what but it’s one of my favourite films – which is being shown on the large screen. As the lights go down and the film is removed, Ross starts to talk, including giving a brief explanation of what a videocassette is and holds the audience’s attention for the next sixty minutes or so.

All told “Standby for Tape Back-Up” is a really intriguing piece that raises questions about the mind as a whole and particularly how external factors – sights, sounds, smells – can trigger memories that we thought were lost, I have to say, the excerpt from ‘Thriller’ actually sent my mind back way back to 1983 and various things that were going on in my own life at that time – which led to me being distracted slightly from Ross’ words for a short time. This is a minor whinge on my part as overall I found the show entertaining and thought provoking in many ways, and left the theatre wondering what pieces of film, TV, adverts or songs I would put together to remind me of the various bits of my own life.
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Written/performed by Ross Sutherland
Directed by Rob Watt
July 6 to 11 – 7.00PM
Soho Theatre, 21 Dean St, London W1D 3NE
July 6: £10, July 7-11: £16 (£14)
02074780100 | www.sohotheatre.com

Two years ago, I found a videotape in my loft. On it: one and a half films, one quiz show and two sit-coms. Somehow, it became the story of my life” (Ross Sutherland).
After a hard-drive crash and a near death experience, Ross Sutherland found himself house-bound with only one thing for company: an old videotape that once belonged to his granddad. Over the months that followed, Ross memorised every second of the tape. Slowly, he learnt how to manipulate the images into telling the story of his life. The videotape allowed Ross to open a dialogue with his late grandfather, and eventually helped him confront the illness that had nearly ended his life. Standby For Tape Back-Up is the true story of one man’s journey into synchronicity and madness.
Standby For Tape Back-Up was one of the critical hits of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 – enjoying a sell-out run at Summerhall, numerous glowing reviews and featuring on BBC2 The Culture Show’s highlights of the Fringe programme. The show sold out the Bush Theatre’s Radar Festival in November 2014 before touring the UK earlier this year. More recently, Ross worked with rising star filmmaker Charlie Lyne (Beyond Clueless, Guardian Guide columnist) on a film adaptation of the live show. This premiered at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto in April to widespread critical acclaim. A limited UK release is planned for later this year.

Wednesday 8th July 2015


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