Harriet Madeley and Max Barton have crafted an unmissable piece of verbatim theatre at the Soho Upstairs in The Colours – the latest production from Crowded Room – where the actors relay words from the interview snippets they hear on the headphones to us, the audience.
The stage is a blue rectangle, with metal containers and microphones at its extremes. A bucket hangs with ladders at each side. The actors step up to the microphones and the soundscape is created – the sound of the sea, a flying gull.
The characters are those receiving care in an end of life unit (Ty Olwen) in Wales, and those who make them comfortable in those days, weeks, months, even years of their lives after a terminal diagnosis.
Jill and Joe, a married couple, both cancer stricken. Erika, eternally optimistic even when her multiple cycles of chemotherapy turn on her. Ray, a chatty grandfather with progressive motor neurone disease. Their doctors, nurses, therapists, family, all with their own thoughts and memories.
With gender-blind casting, we have Che Francis playing Jill and Morfydd Clark playing Joe – she’s pragmatic and caring, he wants to make sure he “keeps his nerve”. They met back in the day when Alvin Stardust topped the charts with bubblegum pop, but Joe prefers rock now.
Music is important in The Colours. Donny Osmond, Cat Stevens, George Ezra riding shotgun. The passing of time, the passing of music. Sand for both, and for places, too, beaches real and imagined, endless cups of tea, snatches of conversation.
The theme might not lend itself to an enjoyable evening on the surface, but I found this play beautifully composed and overwhelmingly positive in its honest depiction of love, friendship, humour and human fraility as death approaches. Ultimately it is about the thoughts we have in our heads, what makes us human, what we leave behind.
The Colours will move you, yes. It will make you stop and think, but it will not depress or scare you. As the ethos of Crowded Room puts it, this piece of cross-form theatre will, and does, empower you as an audience member.
A truly special piece of theatre, you have until 17 August to catch it. You can book tickets at https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-colours/ . Photo credits by Hannah Anketell.