Grace Savage in Blind - Photo by Richard Davenport

The Paper Birds: Blind

Grace Savage in Blind - Photo by Richard DavenportGrace Savage is many things: person, woman, performer, actor, beatboxer. Repeat British Champion Beatboxer to be precise. She is the sum of her parts and so is her one-woman theatrical debut Blind, created with female-led devising company The Paper Birds, and originally premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe 2014. This is a mostly-autobiographical collection of re-enacted memories, history lessons in vocal music making, beatbox masterclass, and an exploration of what it means for a young woman to find her identity in Britain today.

The opening sequence is a tongue-in-cheek riposte to years of predictable and thoughtless questioning directed at a woman in yet another man’s world. A female beatboxer is apparently still a novelty and the l’esprit d’escalier of making a clever sarcastic response is finally realised for Grace Savage as the shadow of her mother sells a percussive baby Grace to the circus. The sequence could definitely benefit from some amplification, but Savage has an impressive ability to fill the space with her voice.

It’s gentle fun and although I felt the shadow was too obscured and the pacing wasn’t yet established, the rest of the audience took to the joke enthusiastically and Grace running out to sample the applause on her mixing desk was a winning touch. This unorthodox and concrete twist on audience participation – a device used again later in the show – lent an air of collaboration to the experience and given that the main theme is about finding and using your voice, this is a satisfying routine, well played by Savage.

There is an unpolished air to proceedings that may speak of Savage’s inexperience at formal, rehearsed acting and speaking, but there is no doubt she is an accomplished beatboxer and confident performer. She shows promising aptitude for structure and employing narrative tools: an ebullient and innocent teenage scene, played mostly for laughs (though that laugh does trail off into unease as the play-fear becomes too authentic) is chillingly referenced in the account of a brutal scene years later, and is all the more powerful for its echo of playful youth.

The pacing of Blind is measured. With a beat of deliberate humour at the end of every bar it feels like the jazz Savage references: improvised (or at least unrefined) but within clear parameters, the time signature tested but never transcended.

The ‘camera’ trick – imitating a flashbulb sound with a mouthful of powder – might have been a nice touch if she’d continued to produce the effects for other items throughout – but alone it was a slightly incongruous gimmick. I did appreciate the simplicity of set design and sparing use of props. Grace Savage is the story and the star; she doesn’t need to hide behind flashy crutches.

The real substance of the show is the more or less autobiographical re-enactment of Grace Savage’s defining moments. Not just definitive in fact, but formative, to UK championships from the mundane reality of a quiet Devon upbringing.

Amongst many clever notes and pleasing touches, the stand out moment in Blind is the ears-only section which gives the show its title. It starts off as a silly game, the audience blindfolded listening to a woman imitate a drum machine. It’s harmless fun that ends with chills and goosebumps – there’s no doubt Savage is an accomplished performer and the delivery at that point shifted the mood in the room on a sixpence.

The trick of referring back to those light-hearted childhood memories is put to good use more than once too: a précis of the major world events of the late 90s and early 2000s, ‘The News As Heard By Me’, is a neat little party trick, but when it is referenced in the rousing climax of the performance, suddenly she’s literally shouting through the static to claim her identity, to be heard, to be seen and that’s a story most of us can relate to.

Grace Savage is a personable and engaging performer. Proficient beatboxer and budding raconteur. You might not agree with everything she has to say, but you’re going to want to hear it.

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About Sophie London

Sophie London is built on Film Theory and Theatre Practice. She has been a theatre technician and some time stage manager for the last decade, working on everything from one woman shows in subterranean sweatboxes to Olivier-winning West End musicals. She always comes back to Fringe and new writing though. Sophie periodically lends her services as a Marketing type to Theatre Royal Stratford East. Find her on Twitter @solosays