Review: Listening at the Tristan Bates Theatre

By Carmel Shortall

Annie is an ordinary eighteen year old who sets out for college a little earlier than usual one Wednesday morning after a breakfast of coco pops. She is looking forward to reading her novel on the train. It’s a glorious day: the whole world is happy.

“It’s impossible to describe what happens next,” she says, “it’s as if I’ve been dumped in the ocean by an angry wall of light….then darkness.” A suicide bomber has blown himself up right behind her. Scenes of utter horror are described as Annie lies on the floor of the tube carriage, the skin on her back and her polyester hoody fused together in one bubbling mass.

She begins to fight: “I will not die. Not now.” She recites the numbers of the dead and injured. Gradually, the walking wounded are rescued and those who can be helped, are. But Annie is passed by – the profoundly injured can wait and she is one of the last off the train.

Listening is told from the point of view of the seemingly unconscious Annie, locked into her broken and bleeding body in her hospital room – “a half-way house for the dead”. She recounts her story from a chair and only makes her way across the stage to the bed when it is clear that her life-support is to be switched off.

Listening is a one-woman show written, produced and performed by Nellie McQuinn in conjunction with Grass Roots Media. It was developed from a 10-minute piece in remembrance of a school friend who died of brain cancer at age 15 about the time of the Bali bombings. In Listening therefore, it is the universal nature of grief and loss that is explored. Although sometimes emotional, the piece is not mawkish and McQuinn holds the show together admirably. It is an assured and strong performance.

Veronica Quilligan’s direction allows the focus to remain firmly on Annie’s unfolding story with as little fuss as possible. At the back of the stage a wall of posters of the victims serves as a projector showing station scenes early in the play and videos of childhood, as Annie begins to flatline. Otherwise the stage is simply but effectively set with just the chair and a hospital bed.  

All proceeds from ticket sales are going to the British Red Cross.

 Listening continues every evening at 7.30pm until Saturday 18th August at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Tickets are £10, concs £8.

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