During the course of the pandemic, I listened to and reviewed a considerable amount of audio theatre many of which came in the form of a series of podcasts such as 45 North’s Written On The Waves or Futures Theatre’s Fully Amplified. Indeed, I thought I had discovered and listened to most of these which often featured new writing and, in the case of the quoted examples, gave particular emphasis to the female voice. So, I’m not quite sure how another in the same vein slipped through my net. But slip it did and so I thought I would plug that particular gap by approaching Fizzy Sherbet over the next few weeks. A pilot series was released in the spring of 2020 and a second season occurred earlier his year. There are 13 featured plays in all so that should keep me busy for a while.
The project actually began in 2017 and evolved into a podcast when restrictions more or less dictated that this was the case. Prior to that, at the live events, a sweet treat was left on the audience’s seats, hence the name of the podcast. Initiated by Lily McLeish and Tamara von Werthern, the latter is both the writer and performer of the first piece, Lemons, which, if nothing else, seems appropriate given the overarching title of the podcast.
Von Werthern, who has a German heritage, gives voice to the immigrant experience and sets her monologue in a double time frame both before and after Brexit has occurred. As might be expected, the piece is a doleful reflection on the changes that have been wrought by that particular seismic shift especially in the welcome (or otherwise) that has been extended to those who are perceived as being from outside. It’s a very personal piece – how could it be otherwise? – that makes a gentle plea for tolerance in this so called brave new world especially one that, at the time of broadcast, was hemmed in by travel restrictions and a sense of isolation. Esben Tjalve’s slightly menacing underscore provides a neat enhancement of the mood.
A personal experience also lies at the heart of Buhle Ngaba’s Swan Song. The protagonist here is born with a condition known as a winged scapula – the shoulder blades protrude giving the impression that wings are developing. This becomes an extended metaphor for the speaker who literally feels that she sticks out from others around her and that her differences make her feel that she doesn’t belong. Essentially this is a coming of age tale which heavily references Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling which, of course, transmutes into a magnificent creature at the end of the tale. There’s some neat musical referencing from composer/director Ilana Cilliers; snippets of Saint-Saens “The Swan” can plainly be discerned. As with the previous piece, Ngaba is both writer and performer and brings an intensity to the latter which drives the play forward.
The third episode features an extract from a longer play …blackbird hour by babirye bukilwa which was first performed in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. It’s an examination of one person’s growing issues with psychosis as they try to wrestle it into place while still maintaining a relationship. Any reality is distorted, and the central figure’s distress becomes palpable. It’s a coruscating short piece and if this extract is anything to go by then encountering the full length play must have been an intensely emotional experience. The writer again takes the lead role supported by Michael Balogun.
All three of these short plays centre on writer/performers who, not unnaturally, bring a depth of emotion to their own work. Their ideas and methods are explored more fully in follow up interviews which form the second part of each of the podcasts. To some extent these are an essential part of the listening experience as they tend to clarify what has just been listened to. So far Fizzy Sherbet has proved to be an interesting addition to the online audio theatre scene – though I still can’t quite figure out how I missed them first time round. Never mind, now that the discovery has been made, I’ll try and make the most of it with at least three more visits.