Review: Touchy (Unity Theatre, online)

A short web series on YouTube, Touchy comprises five short films which mash-up theatre and music video, giving a voice to six young adults. Each film runs less than fifteen minutes, but blends different types of sound with focused stories.

Presented by 20 Stories High, who were previously responsible for I Told My Mum I Was Going On An R.E. Trip, these films were commissioned by the Wellcome Collection, they offer “an unique exploration in the world of touch”.

With topics such as undiagnosed autism (Jemell’s Story), sexuality and gender (Jazz’s Story, Max’s Story), family (Sophie’s Story), and consent (Ella and Ste’s Story), the approaches are fresh and inspiring. The music genres may be different and the approaches in film-making explore a range of styles, but the series as a whole really connects with an audience.

What is touch about? Do we need it, should we value it – what happens if it is taken away, awkward for us, or frowned upon? Do we use, give, or receive it correctly? How does it make us feel, or make others feel? How does exploring the whole area of touching help us evolve as people, especially when we are young adults?

Watching a story about boundaries being crossed during sex straight after a piece about same sex affection in public places is just one example of the different approaches these creatives have taken on the broad topic of ‘touch’. The acting is very good throughout these films, with strong scripts making the most of the sparse running times.

Promotional images for Touchy, a web series from 20 Stories High and Unity Theatre, Liverpool

These are thoughtful vignettes pushing through voices which feel relevant and original. Each story – originally released weekly – will make you stop and reflect on what you have seen and heard. Not every film is completely successful, but they are all honest – some raw, some funny – pushing at the edges of what theatre and film can achieve. Only Sophie’s Story and Max’s Story reference lockdown directly (“a time when socialising is a crime”; “how awkward greetings are”).

Jemell’s Story – written by Mal Lidgett and Keith Saha, with Lidgett as Jemell and additional vocals by Izzy Campbell and Faye Donna Francis. Directed by Keith Saha, Kofi Owusu and Mal Lidgett.

Jazz’s Story – written and performed by Faye Donna Francis, with additional lyrics and vocals by Izzy Campbell and poetry by Emily McChrystal. Music by Kofi Owusu and Phil Dyer. Directed by Keith Saha.

Ella and Ste’s Story – written by Julia Samuels, with Izzy Campbell as Ella and Pari Richards as Ste, with music by Georgina Aasgaard (cello) and Mal Lidgett (original beats). Directed by Julia Samuels and Amy Golding.

Sophie’s Story – written and performed by Anita Welsh, with animations and illustrations by Amber Akaunu and Joe Harper, music by Mal Lidgett and Keith Saha. Directed by Keith Saha.

Max’s Story – written by Keith Saha and James Cast, performed by James Cast. Illustration and animation by Kay Dale, music by Beatbox Hobbit. Directed by Keith Saha.

Touchy remains available as a playlist on 20 Stories High’s YouTube channel, where all five films can be viewed for free. Enjoy them as a group or as individual pieces: both approaches work. Strongly recommended.