views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Soho Theatre
12th July 2014


Yve Blake

Photography © Rory Lindsay & Keely Mangham

Whoever you are right now, chances are, you weren't always that person. Let's face it, unless you skipped puberty, you probably have a stack of embarrassing memories you'd rather never resurfaced. With the recent discussions over the right to be forgotten - and the new trend to desperately try to scrub the internet lest a past indiscretion pop up on a Google search by a new employer - it's clear we don't always like remembering how we got here.

And yet life is an ever-changing, wholly unpredictable journey. You never really know where you're going until reach your destination, and then you don't always stay for as long as you think. In her multimedia show THEN, writer and performer Yve Blake asks who are you, who did you use to be and who will you be? Those are pretty big questions, but Blake has harnessed the power of the internet to help answer them, by inviting contributions from people all over the world. So far, thanks to a promise of anonymity, she's received hundreds of stories, ranging from the innocent to the more creepy, and she's turned these into a patchwork of songs about human identity.

When we first meet Blake, she's wearing a simple black pinafore dress over a long sleeved white shirt, a fairly neutral look which the likes of Alexa Chung would happily step out in. A curtain with the word "COSTUMES" in glittery silver letters is the only clue that designer Naomi Kuyck-Cohen has her sights set on ramping up the craziness at the first opportunity. Blake does indeed stop to change at several points during the show, the white shirt always remaining as one constant link, but the rest of her outfit packed full of humour and personality as she takes on a different character.

Yve Blake

Photography © Naomi Kuyck-Cohen & Martha Webb

One of the stories which Blake has turned into a song with the help of musical director Alex Groves is about a girl who either wanted to be a princess when she grew up, or to sell fruit. Both equally valid career plans. Kuyck-Cohen dresses Blake in a crown impaled with brightly coloured fruit and trainers which appear to be half footwear half aeroplane. She takes all the aspirations of a young child and puts them into one wardrobe choice. It's bonkers, utterly daft and lot of fun, and only works because Blake has the energy and charisma to pull it off. Video designers Rosa Nussbaum and Joel Enfield also support Blake with some bold animations in the background, helping to keep the tone of the piece light-hearted, but not taking the focus away.

There's an expression "dance like no one's watching", but when Blake gyrates and jumps around the stage with moves that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air wants back, she knows all eyes are on her and she laps it up. She has all the confidence and swagger that the star of a one-woman show needs, and holds our attention for the full hour.

Not only has Blake read anonymous online submissions in researching this piece, she has interviewed people face to face and invested a lot of time in trying to represent each different individual, even when she hasn't had a lot to go on. Some of the personae she plays on stage could well be herself, they're not always as distinct as they should be. However, there's a lot of relatability in childhood dreams and embarrassing stories, and with a show as personal as this one, it's probably a fair statement that you can't not end up sharing a part of yourself too.

The truly collaborative nature behind THEN is an exciting way of making theatre feel more accessible, and getting as many people as possible to feel part of something bigger. It's the sort of idea that you really want to like, and thankfully Blake & Co do a fantastic job in executing it. With Blake still having so many stories to read through and set to music, this show may well change the next time it's staged. For for now, this is what THEN is. What it will be next, I don't know - but I'm willing to bet it will be just as pleasingly crazy.

THEN ran from 8th July to 13th July 2014 at the Soho Theatre.

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

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