views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Soho Theatre
15th July 2015


Grace Savage

Photography provided by the Soho Theatre

We've seen a huge variety in Soho Solo - from the mental breakdown of one man to the extinction of an entire species. Now The Paper Birds have nested next to Fishamble's Silent with a one-woman beatboxing monologue called Blind, running together until the end of the season. There's a serendipity in the programming, but even though the names seem to fit together, Blind is very different. This is the lesser known story of Grace Savage, the little girl who copied everything and found herself in the process.

The set by Fiammetta Horvat with its red and cream stripes and rows of bulb lights immediately screams Vaudeville at us, with Savage playing up to this and claiming to have been abandoned as a child and raised by the circus. It would be a fantastical story if true, but as Savage admits, she grew up in Devon in fairly normal circumstances. Still, never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn. This is part storytelling, part beatboxing education and part insight into what makes Savage tick

As an actress, Savage is warm and friendly, playing a version of herself which has been stylised for the show. Most revealing is her admission that she became a beatboxer because she was trying to copy sounds, always imitating other people and strange noises in a bid to find her own identity somewhere in the mix. It's an honest relevation, and one which endears her to the audience - show me someone who had an easy time of it growing up and I'll show you a liar. We all had our own struggles to reach adulthood and can empathise with the awkward and earnest character Savage presents to us.

Savage is immensely likable and you cannot dispute that there's something special about her, particularly if you've had a go beatboxing with her and realised how difficult it is to make any kind of mouth music. (Looks easy - really isn't.) She's a good performer, but she doesn't quite have the same charm or skill as her former mentor, Schlomo, or the range of Australian beatboxer Tom Thum. She is the only female beatboxing champion I've ever come across, but you get the impression that Savage isn't interested in a gender qualifier - she wants to be the best out there, not the best female and certainly not the best UK female, an even narrower playing field. It's an admirable ambition, but one which is some time off from being realised.

The cleverest part of the show is where we finally find out the significance of the show's title and lose a sense, properly listening to all the chaos and confusion, our ears sharpened and our hearts laid wide open. And the most amusing part is where Grace gets us to make some sounds for her, recording our pitiful attempt at beatboxing and transforming it into a song with the help of a loopstation and, well, let's be honest, more of her music than ours. We did try.

Some of the narrative is stitched together roughly, with the show coasting along based on Savage's stage presence rather than Jemma McDonnell's direction. There are many reasons why Blind wouldn't work without Savage, but the main one is her infectious joy. The audience play along with her because it means so much to her, swept along by her enthusiasm. Blind is very much worth seeing - or at least, listening to.

Blind ran from 13th to 25th July 2015 at the Soho Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

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