Alecky Blythe and her Recorded Delivery company take what could be a worthy piece of verité docu-drama and lift it on to a different plane altogether. In Come Out Eli, first seen at the Arcola last year and now deservedly revived in the Time Out Critics' Choice strand at BAC, Blythe has edited together interviews from people in and around the Hackney siege of Christmas 2002, when gunman Eli Hall, cornered in a flat, and police engaged in a standoff for over a fortnight, causing upheavals in the lives of those living and working in the area of Graham Road.
But when I say Blythe has edited the interviews, I mean precisely that. She hasn't trimmed and shaped the words to make a script; she has worked directly with the recordings, in a technique developed by Actors' Centre director Mark Wing-Davey. The five performers wear Mini Disc players which carry the edit of the interviews, and rather than learning their lines they recite what comes over their earphones exactly as they hear it. It reproduces everyday speech patterns and intonations in a way that no improvisation or devised work can ever quite do.
It doesn't feel artificial, either. You spot things like the actors plugging into each other's machines for exchanges when dialogue needs to be closely synchronised, but it very quickly becomes just another condition of the production, no more obtrusive than the multiple role-playing (five players, more than 40 characters in 72 minutes: the play can only be as long as the maximum capacity of a Mini Disc).
Nor do the performances come over as being at all gimmicky. From police officers to pensioners, all are portrayed with a fidelity beyond stage realism into real realism: the recordings seem to root things in actuality. Even when actor/comedian Miranda Hart, playing Blythe herself, recreates her awkward negotiations with Hall's hostage Paul Okere (who wanted to be "paid" for his interview in sexual favours), it seems bizarre but never for a moment implausible. It's just another example of the unprecedented turn of events in people's lives over that none too festive season.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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