Small Truth Theatre own perhaps the smallest venue ever. It’s a caravan which will seat an audience of up to ten people for what it calls its micro plays. As there’s absolutely no chance of operating within social distancing rules they have reimagined their unique site as an online digital space and are currently presenting a season of three audio dramas of around 15 minutes each under the general title of Digital Caravan Theatre. The plays are all set in and around the caravan’s stamping ground of London’s North Kensington, famous for one corner of Hyde Park, the Portobello Road and, of course, the annual Notting Hill Carnival which this year is another victim of the pandemic.
It is fitting, therefore, that the first play, Spirit Of Carnival, is about that very event. The play put me very much in mind of David Rudkin’s Place Prints series as the voice we hear is not that of one of the 50,000 performers or the always massive crowd of onlookers but (as the title reveals) the carnival spirit itself. Through this we learn about how the carnival came into being in 1966 spearheaded by the determined figure of Claudia Jones. We also get an aural glimpse of the modern day revels as the spirit weaves in and out of the crowd and focuses on some of the participants.
The poetic language employed in Emma Dennis-Edwards’ writing draws on the senses to conjure up the atmosphere – it is no mean feat to capture the aromas of an event. The spirit is played by Danielle Vitalis whose honeyed voice is perhaps the piece’s greatest asset. The sound design by Nicola Chang is highly evocative through all three pieces but particularly effective in this episode as the genuine sounds of the real carnival appear to have been used. The 2020 carnival was scheduled to take place in a couple of weekends time and Spirit Of Carnival provides a potent reminder of what will be sadly missed by many.
The second play Enough by Abi Zakarian is billed as “a love story” but this is not of one person for another but rather of a person for a place. Olive (“like the garnish”) wanders down Portobello Road introducing us to some of the sights and local characters with whom she has built up a special relationship. As played by Lilly Driscoll, Olive comes across as fun loving, a little bit cheeky and someone who is totally smitten by her surroundings.
She has the “best trees in London” outside where she lives and her picture of Portobello Road conjures up visions of antique stalls and a vibrant local community. However, it is built on a dark past – the very name references the slavery on which the area was constructed and so the play has something to teach us about the serious side of life too. If perhaps not quite as successful as the opener, it is still an interesting piece which would work well played on headphones while strolling the area.
The final play, Jessica Butcher’s September Skies, references the fast-approaching start of the new school term as protagonist Kite (a delightful Safiyya Ingar) and her best friend Bea enjoy the summer holidays before lessons recommence. The girls find a caravan which inspires their imaginations (nice bit of self-referencing) and soon they are observing worlds beyond their everyday lives. This play is aimed squarely at a younger audience having a central figure to whom they can relate and asking listeners to let their thoughts run free. That said it is also bound to be evocative for older audience members remembering long summer days and the sense of freedom which came with not being at school for six weeks (though it has been rather longer for many this year). There’s also a rueful acknowledgement that friendships like Kite and Bea’s do not tend to survive so the moment must be grabbed while it can be. Anyone teaching creative writing to upper primary age children would find this a useful classroom resource – especially as there is a downloadable learning pack.
All three plays have been lovingly and carefully directed by Yasmeen Arden. Small Truth Theatre are to be congratulated for coming up with a novel way of limiting the damage wreaked by coronavirus and keeping their brand alive through these difficult times. Next up from the enterprising players is a series called Shakespeare Shorts from their micro theatres. As well as the caravan they apparently also perform in a converted horse box ….. so presumably they’ll be doing Richard III.