A collaboration between writer/director Tassos Stevens (of Coney fame) and composer/sound designer Nick Ryan, Fortune combines Stevens’ storytelling with Ryan’s evocative soundscape. An ever-changing atmosphere surrounds Stevens as he tells his stories, from storms erupting at sea to chiming bells – and the audience is invited to consider chance, fortune and serendipity, with some fun and silliness along the way.
Stevens is a big, burly guy with a brooding, thoughtful manner, who draws audiences into his stories as eager participants in games of chance. These games are woven into a text that parallels Shakespeare’s Pericles with Stevens’ personal journey of discovery of his family history. The Member’s Library at Battersea Arts Centre is dressed no differently than it would be for a rehearsal – slightly scruffy – as the audience enters Stevens’ world of play. The appearance is charmingly clumsy, while the content is delicately rich. Described as a ‘perma-scratch’ and therefore ever changing, each night reveals a variant as the elements of chance and audience participation alter the themes and outcomes.
Nick Ryan sits at the back with his laptop and an array of instruments, from Tibetan singing bowls to metal chimes which he plays with a bow. Stevens moves between a microphone and a flight case that frame a central mysterious metronome with a mind of its own. Two chunky square stage weights suspended by wires hang and gently swing at the hands of Ryan, who switches between Stevens’ assistant in performance and something more like a deity (or perhaps a Deus Ex Machina). The weights form two giant pendulums suspended from – what? – an invisible clock, a higher being or another world? They hover over wires taped to the floor, gently scanning a light across their surface that triggers sound. A constant, ever-moving, ever-gentle ebb and flow forms both a comfort and a point of tension in the work, and cleverly knits together Stevens’ speech with the soundscape. The momentum of the swinging weights are meditative and serene.
In contrast, Stevens addresses his audience as if they are all down the pub together. This tension provokes an uncertainty of our world in the here and now as a mystical parallel universe is evoked where our fate is mapped out for us. Stevens is honest and profound and chuckles with his audience as they get carried away with predicting narratives. He regularly throws in a ‘what’s next?’ or a coin spin, to their delight. There are running wagers and moments to ask the pendulums any question that might predict or determine your future. Stevens’ genuine relationship with viewers encourages them to invest in possible outcomes which makes for an engaging work. His choices in alternating between speaking into a microphone and chatting normally, singing or dropping into a deep, flowing rhythm of speech subtly allow viewers to smoothly follow one story into another.
This storytelling is thoughtfully grounded both in the themes of fortunes past and present, and personal enquiry. The text is both robust and beautiful, making for some powerfully expressive moments. This seemingly simple work uncovers a complex cyclical relationship between narrative, chance and the way in which we interpret serendipity to allow chance to become fate. This is paralleled by the relationship that the pendulum has to the outcomes of the text, the soundscape, and Stevens’ and Ryan’s commands. It soon becomes unclear who is controlling what and a world in the hands of the fates flits between becoming both believable and completely untenable.