Review: Imagining Rachel (online)

Storyteller Elise Robertson delves into the world of Rachel Carson (1907-1964), Pittsburgh environmentalist and marine biologist, in this two-hour digital show.

“Elise’s own demons quickly hijack the story, interweaving her own coming-of-age with Rachel’s, as they struggle with their identities as artists, mothers, and truth-tellers” (Brighton Fringe blurb).

Robertson creates the show within her own office studio, with props, green screen, multiple Zooms, and stop motion. It gives a sense of scale to the project rather than keeping it shackled to one space.

Imagining Rachel is a piece of personal history as well as an exploration of the scientific. Born within 12 miles of each other, six decades apart,

Carson and Robertson share the same life experience of being a woman seeking success in a world skewed towards male patriarchy.

What doesn’t quite work is the split screen work in which Carson’s voice and spirit is conjured to deal with perennial issues of environmental pollution and activism.

It almost feels as if Imagining Rachel doesn’t need this level of storytelling to make its point.

Production shot from Imagining Rachel

However, the show is technically adept and Robertson is a gifted storyteller, bringing her childhood experiences to life alongside Carson’s.

The detail has been well-thought out in every scene and gives a sense of Pittsburgh, an industrial capital finding its feet and evolving into a tech centre.

I found Imagining Rachel a little overlong: it lacks a dramatic hook to retain the interest for the full running time. Quirky enough, but I wanted more.

So, a mixed bag, engagingly performed, but lacking a tight narrative arc which might make it interesting to a wide audience.

You can stream Imagining Rachel at the Brighton Fringe here until 5 June, or via C Arts here.

For more on Elise Robertson, visit her website.