By Common Ground Theatre and Hannah Bruce & Co.
6th October, Piccadilly Car Park
York Mediale festival kicked off for the very first time last week and, typically, I missed almost all of it because I was in stupid London. However, I managed to squeeze in a cheeky show at the end of the festival – Common Ground Theatre and Hannah Bruce & Co’s site specific audio re-telling of Baba Yaga.
Despite being a former theatre student and having an embarrassingly pretentious-sounding preference for non-traditional theatre, I’ve actually never attended this kind of production before, so wasn’t fully aware of what to expect. I downloaded an app and put in the unique code that had been emailed to me, and was instructed to turn up at the bus stop outside Topshop with my phone and a pair of headphones no later than 7pm, when the piece would begin. It was all very fun and mysterious. I was a little bit nervous. I felt a little bit like an undercover agent.
Instead of being ambushed by a witch outside a darkened bus stop like I was half expecting, I was greeted by a lovely York Mediale team member who checked by app was synced, and then waited with a wonderfully diverse group of audience members for the piece to begin.
What followed was an audio experience that took us up into Piccadilly car park, pausing at various spots to hear the story of Lisa, who’s life and grip on reality is beginning to crumble as she experiences visions of the titular witch Baba Yaga. Her story is told partly through monologue, partly through echoes of conversations. The sound recordings are dreamy and immersive, with the speech elements really feeling as if the characters were behind you.
The piece was punctuated by little events that felt part of the piece – an empty lift descended and opened just at the right moment; the story-teller instructed us where to go based on incidental-looking landmarks (a bin bag, a pile of traffic cones). I found myself looking around suspiciously – was the woman who just bustled past a part of the piece, or just a passer-by? Is that parked car meant to belong to Lisa, or just the sign of a late-night shopper? At times, it really felt like were following the ghosts of moments in time.
And all too quickly it was over. We made our way down towards the exit to the car park and just as I was expecting the next piece of the story, the credits began to be spoken to through my headphones. I couldn’t believe it had already been half an hour – and this can only be a good sign coming from someone who explicitly does not enjoy standing around in cold carparks. The piece was a work in progress, a pilot to test out the format that will hopefully be developed into a full piece, and I’ll be first in line to buy tickets if it does.
The taster left me wanting more and excited about the possibilities of where Common Ground could take the story – I hope they build on those elements which blended the words we were hearing and the physical aspects of the environment around us. I would love to see them play with messing with our minds more, having flashes of movement out of the corner of your eye or real time sounds mixed with the audio. Whatever they decide to do with it, I can’t wait.