4/5 Stars

★★★★ Inquisitive Playfulness: Say Hello to Red Belly Black Theatre Company

Charlotte Pegram reviews Ok Bye at Vaults Festival

Saying goodbye can be as simple as a ‘see you later’ or as emotional as making peace with someone who will no longer be on this earth. We can say goodbye to houses and hobbies, to habits and health fads, and Red Belly Black Theatre cover all of these type of partings in their new show, Ok Bye.

Using a stylish mix of physical theatre and lip-syncing, the three person cast tell a number of real-life stories gathered from friends and family. The through-line of the performance is anchored by April’s story, whose recorded voice is heard at various points and whose experiences of caring for a sick, ageing parent are enacted through a mixture of naturalistic scenes and bursts of high-energy movement. Sometimes, the meaning embedded in a physical theatre sequence can become a little hazy, and one sometimes wonders how it connects with the wider themes of the piece, but Red Belly Black have refined and reduced their movements to clearly connect with the dual ideas of breaking-down and letting-go. At times the physicality is rough and angry, just like the rawness of April and her siblings’ relationships when their mother passes; at times they seem to be cutting open their chests and letting their soul out, as though saying goodbye is sometimes a heart-wrenching process.

It’s not all dark and mournful, the piece is well balanced with lighter moments from quite a range of voices. The cross-gender lip-syncing went down particularly well with the audience, especially Sam Cornforth’s presentation of a young girl who considers how she says goodbye to her friends and her pets. The voices are varied enough for the overarching theme of the piece not to become laboured, and there is an inquisitive playfulness that enthuses the whole production and which tells the audience that this company enjoys branching out and finding new ways to communicate stories to their audience. One such experimental moment was the use of LED picture frames to highlight the expressions and gestures of a character as he tells us the story of leaving his evangelical church. It was fascinating to see how spotlighting an area of the body can intensify the narrative, and with each of these flourishes Red Belly Black raise the level of their performance and mark out their own territory as being an exciting, experimental theatre company.

Charlotte Pegram

Ok Bye plays at Vaults Festival until March 11th.

Find out more about Red Belly Black Theatre by checking out their website.

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