Culture Writers Charley Davies and Nouria Lambert de Rouvroit review This Little Relic, highlighting the unique experience of seeing an audio drama recorded live for the BBC
This Little Relic, a compelling audio drama by Karla Marie Sweet, was recorded live with an audience at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry in collaboration with BBC Drama North. It invites the listener into the particular sociocultural context of Coventry, ultimately telling a story of identity, acceptance, and regeneration.
It introduces the listener to a vibrant cast of characters: Jen – a successful career woman returning home to Coventry; Mr Sims – an ex-convict turned Youth Mentor slightly obsessed with Ibra Aldridge and desperately trying to put together a re-enactment of The Black Doctor; Alex – a biracial teenager in search of her biological parents, and Ajay – an old friend of hers who is attempting to come to terms with the fact that his mother, Prabhleen, is moving on from his father and pursuing love again. Through their diverse lives and experiences, as well as their interactions and misunderstandings, this radio play uncovers a somewhat hidden facet of life in Coventry, away from the luxurious student housing areas.
It touches upon a variety of different themes, such as the questionable urban development of the city, or inequalities in race, gender and class. This is all done tastefully through the voices of the different characters, such as in a conversation between Mr Sims, a black man, and Jen, a white woman. The two discuss the reason behind Mr Sims’ incarceration, namely him throwing a bottle at a cop during a protest. As Jen jokingly admits she must have done worse when she was in college, Mr Sims replies with ‘It’s not the same for you now, is it?’. These subtle remarks on racial and gender inequalities are sprinkled throughout the play, without ever distracting from the events of the narrative. Despite the frequent switches between different characters, spaces and time, the pacing of the story flows smoothly, aided by a beautiful female choir that successfully punctuates the play, gives the listener direction on location and time changes, and simply blesses the ears with the stunning vocals of its singers. The play almost seems aware of itself, as it frequently calls back on the most minute details of its plot, adding to the already meta tinge of a play that is about putting together one.
This Little Relic also sheds light on the impressive talent located within Coventry. The unconventional form of storytelling certainly played a role in this, as it is an audio drama being recorded live in a theatre auditorium, bare for the audience to see. It was wonderful to see the extensive animation imbued within Aimee Powell’s facial expressions as Alex and the stage presence she and her fellow performers carried, in spite of the fact that none of it would be visually captured. The way in which the actors were planted in rows across the stage but did not interact physically made for an unconventional theatre performance.
One of the most striking elements of the performance derived from the relentlessly active efforts of the Foley Artist – someone assigned with the task of handling the sound effects to then be layered with the voice acting in post production. It is easy to underestimate the importance of sound until seeing This Little Relic’s Foley Artist fumble with sheets of paper, open and close a small door contraption, lean on a stool, and even throw herself on the floor. The attention-to-detail within the Foley artist’s choreography and its symbiotic relationship with the dialogue it elevated was immensely satisfying to watch and captured the various environments of the scene with nuance and intimacy.
Overall, This Little Relic was an enriching and motivating entry-point into radio drama. We were lucky enough to speak with some of the actors after the performance. In a conversation with Aimee Powell, we discovered how the rehearsal process kick-started less than a week before the first performance. With rehearsal days being 12 hours long, it’s no surprise that This Little Relic Press Night became an all-round treat. We wish the company the best of luck for subsequent performances and for the drama’s imminent distribution to BBC Radio 3, where it can be immortalised as its own little relic.
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