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Sad-Vents by Eleanor Hill at The White Bear Theatre

The satirical musical revue Forbidden Broadway once poked fun out of Mamma Mia!, declaring it to be complex enough to have two acts, as opposed to the seeming plethora of one-act productions that now adorn stages on both sides of the Atlantic. As this was one of those evenings at the theatre where I didn’t want the play to end, it was a pleasant surprise to find when the lights came up after almost ninety minutes of Sad-Vents we had reached the interval and not an abrupt conclusion. The full evening allows a broad range of subjects to be covered, and in significant depth. My usual gripe about one-person narratives providing only a single perspective of events was not something that came to mind.

Sad-Vents - photographer credit Joe Twigg.
Sad-Vents – photographer credit Joe Twigg.

Perhaps the use of social media and text messaging helped – these, as you know, come with replies and comments from others. Eleanor Hill plays herself in a production that admits to having deployed some creative licence. The audience is invited to use their mobile phones to follow the show’s Instagram account. Those who elected to do so were, apparently, treated to extra content. I didn’t feel as though I was missing out in any way by not going beyond having a quick peek, such was the amount of on-stage activity – and the on-stage narrative is comprehensive enough to be understood by anyone who didn’t happen to have a smartphone on them. A middle finger (or is it an inverted victory sign?) is raised at the theatre etiquette brigade – the prologue, if I can call it that, consists of trigger warnings followed by house rules that are never referred to as house rules, one of which dares anyone who really thinks they can hold their phone up for long enough, to “livestream the whole f—ing show”.

It may not necessarily be a bad thing, even these days, not to possess a mobile: Eleanor (such is the warm and inclusive nature of this piece of theatre that it’s first name terms) has, it is eventually revealed, several, all of which have their purposeful uses. Technology is deployed well here, through the use of live video and a range of projected moving and still images. On paper, it seems unnecessary in a studio theatre, especially with such a master storyteller as Eleanor. But none of it feels out of place, and with scenes as clearly demarcated from one another as they are here, it has the potential to transfer to film or television.

This is not an easy watch – Eleanor still has strong feelings for someone who abused her, and the show provides an intriguing insight into why the way forward isn’t always as straightforward as pressing charges at the first opportunity. A high-octane performance that moves seemingly effortlessly between, say, a fully choreographed music scene, to a quiet moment in Eleanor’s bedroom, the show treats an unexpected family tragedy with the same gravity and vigour as the dastardly (and, at least to me, humorous) plotting of revenge against an ex-partner.

It’s not exactly family viewing – I’m not sure if all of it even should be livestreamed – but there are some laugh-out-loud moments. I’d tell you what they were but it would be giving too much away. In line with a considerable number of productions first developed in the pandemic, there’s an emphasis on mental health, though it is never preachy and does not attempt to advise the audience on how they should look after themselves. Tellingly, and refreshingly, social media updates stressing positivity are seen as quite exhausting – there’s something pragmatic, and therefore credible, about Eleanor’s approach to online activity. A demanding yet rewarding production, it’s not one for the fainthearted.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“Why do we need an audience for our recovery?

Well, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Eleanor is a loud, brazen and darkly comic theatre-maker, who has decided to take some terrible things that happened to her and turn them into a play. Sounds pretty intense, right? But it is funny, she promises.

Sad-Vents is an immersive show about mental health, heartbreak and trauma through the lens of social media. Music, movement, and mixed media collide in this solo piece that bravely (or madly) asks the questions we don’t want to hear the answers to.

Somewhere between Euphoria, Instagram Live and all those Netflix trauma porn documentaries you just love watching; audiences will leave feeling exposed and alive, reconsidering what and why they share online, who it’s really for and how they consume the lives of others.

Together we’ll scroll through reels to find what’s real and when it’s done, we’ll go ready to share our deepest, darkest secrets with all and sundry.

Or not…?

White Bear Theatre
By Eleanor Hill
20 – 25th June 2022

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