Andy Smith is on a mission; he wants to change the world. He wants us to change the world, all of us, together, in this room. Smith is a writer, dramaturg and performer, most recently with Tim Crouch in what happens to the hope at the end of the evening, which he co-wrote. These two plays form part of his practice-as-research PhD at Lancaster University.
He opens with Commonwealth (2012). Standing behind a music stand and reading from a folder, small bottle of water anchored stage left, Smith begins Act One, The Situation. It is the mise-en-scène for this play, in which we are people who have come together in a room to hear a story. Smith slides slyly from the general to the personal; maybe the people listening to the story in that room, or this room, feel annoyed about something, maybe they are waiting for the story to begin. Gently his words, with their repeated phrases and questions – ‘Are you with me? Good’ – allow the audience to imagine this other room, allow us to visualize scenes. Thus Act Two, Speculation, suggests a Town Hall stand-off situation, or the effects on a relationship over a choice of cheese. By Act Three, The Suggestion, we are into more political ground, a plea for collective thinking to affect change. Smith makes us consider how making choices and taking chances can move things forward. That is his story, and our story, it is what the people in the room have listened to. It is a deceptively simple forty minutes. It gives space to your individual thoughts whilst you listen to the fractured abstraction of the text. I pictured Independence Square in Kiev, and how people there had come together to create change, and how people in cities in the world do that because there is nothing else they can do, and how much better it would be if people could just talk. Smith’s optimism is infectious.
All that is solid melts into air (2012) is a more strident manifesto (in fact the title comes from the Communist one). It is a play stripped to its core; its message a call to arms for us to change the world. Sitting this time, and talking without a script, Smith tells us that he thought about using lights to create mood, or film extracts to give context, but decided against it. All that is needed is in his words and in our imagination. The piece is beautifully written, cleverly layered and punctured with out-takes: ‘I think I know what you might be thinking, but stay with me please.’ It is as much a treatise on theatre, on the power of theatre to create communal acts of challenge, as a personal plea from a solo political being. For we are all here, with him. Just being and breathing. We are all in it together.
As dematerialized, totally in-your-head theatre, the double bill packs a punch and almost forces you to listen hard, conjure and think. It is not without lightness – ‘Shut up Andy!’ – and is passionate in its quiet, undemonstrative way. I wonder if the experience would be made more powerful if audience members could see each other better; from a seat in the front row I could only see Smith, so the feeling that we were all together was diluted. I’d have liked to see the faces of others and to acknowledge our collective presence in that room. But that, of course, would have made it another kind of play.