Book Festival: Letters Home
letters home

Edinburgh International Book Festival blog: Heather McDaid experiences the first site-specific theatre performance at Charlotte Square, telling four very different stories from the Commonwealth

letters home

Can theatre help us approach the idea of dialogue from a different perspective? With the resurgence in letters and written correspondence in a world so tech-savvy, the Grid Iron theatre company certainly seeks to make you think about it with their promenade theatre – a first for the Book Festival.

Wandering around Charlotte Square in four colour-coded sections, the silver group first step into a dimly lit, sand-covered room to witness Christos Tsiolkas’ Eve and Cain, which sees Charlene Boyd and Gavin Marshall correspond as the two, via slaves, following the murder of Abel. An overwhelming introduction to Letters Home, the duo shout, spit and splash the audience as they convulse with rage and emotion, of being a mother who lost, and a father who looks to do better.

It’s a far cry from the calm that follows in Kei Miller’s England in a Pink Blouse – sitting in aeroplane seats with eye masks on in a darkened room. Attendees listen to the email exchange of two Jamaican women, understatedly detailing Kei’s tale of sexual identity, escape and hope for reinvention – epitomising the almost fleeting e-conversations that are used for sharing even the most life-changing of information.

Next, the group is shuffled into a room – its centrepiece a kingsize bed with two women lying facing away from each other – Details by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Chisara and Oyin’s holiday romance is cut short by the return to Oyin’s husband in the US. “We didn’t talk about it after,” chimes one email in their intimate dialogue. Oyin is obsessed with details, almost hiding behind them in her emails, as Chisara – alone in Nigeria – is left to wonder what she really knows, riddled with jealousy in a country where homosexuality can be met with jail terms and death sentences.

The pair’s exchange is simple – showing their attempt to bridge the geographical distance, and their growth when apart, from the bubbly attempts to hide upset, to the darkest of moments, to silence – yet is the most powerful and interesting of the four.

The final instalment sees a room with four giant screens – War Letters by Kamila Shamsie – replace the live action telling of their correspondence. The two Punjabi soldiers, Wahid and Qasim, find themselves in very different places, with the cinematic set-up consuming you in their story of loyalty, friendship and love found in war.

It’s a mix of nostalgia for the written word, and the all-consuming nature of its technological counterparts. Whether painstakingly written, or hurriedly typed, the art of communication lends itself to some surprising, interesting, even jarring theatre performances. The Fringe already boasts a diverse range of art to witness year on year, but for the Book Festival, this is a fascinating addition.

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