Bloodlines by Talia Randall (The Roundhouse Last Word Festival, 26/05/15)

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

(Director: Rachel Blackman)

“Welcome to my mind…”

The floor of the studio theatre at Roundhouse is covered in piles of silky black VHS tape as Talia Randall strolls on stage, carrying a French horn. Dressed in a white shirt dress that doesn’t quite hide a pink leotard and gold leggings she finishes setting up before proclaiming ‘Welcome to my mind’. Thus begins Bloodlines at the Last Word Festival.

Her chatty, relaxed and irreverent stage persona isimmediately likeable as she introduces us to her surroundings, a bizarre mix of household furniture, recording equipment, random nostalgic objects (like a slinky that she later explains represents her mum), sheets of crinkly metallic stuff suspended from stands and, most importantly, a series of seemingly ordinary plastic boxes that conceal speakers. She starts opening the boxes one by one, trying to find the right soundtrack with which to start the show. Finally, she rests upon a pan-pipe version of an iconic 80s pop hit from Flashdance, giving the audience a few of her best Jennifer Beals moves.

Isn’t this supposed to be spoken word?

Talia is poet but this show is not a straight spoken word piece. As she explained in a pre-show interview;

“The show is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between myself and a full creative team including sound designers Nick Ryan and Tomasso Perego, the set and instruments designed by Vahakan Matossian.” She explains. “We’re exploring how words can be broken down into sounds to make music”.

As the performance continues this aim becomes clear. Drawing on elements of spoken word, stand-up comedy and storytelling, it’s hard to define Bloodlines but over the hour show Talia entertains the audience, introducing characters from her life using objects to represent them as well as highlighting the resonance of memories: from her North London teenage years discovering communism and raving, to her Jewish heritage exploring her own history through memories of childhood songs and family meals.

Apart from the slinky that is her mum, her dad is represented by an apple and her three aunties by three aubergines. In a very funny section she puts a microphone in front of each aubergine to describe the language that they speak (Ladino, Bulgarian and Hebrew respectively), the sound she makes for Hebrew is a hilarious hacking sound, like somebody noisily clearing their throat. Elsewhere she freestyles a communist rap to MC Hammer weaving this high octane comedy with more contemplative moments such as when she explains her mother’s experience of growing up in Israel.

Her story flits around like a pin-ball, never really landing on anything for that long, but it is precisely this scattergun of thoughts and ideas that makes the show interesting, as she uses her time on stage to explore ideas to do with the language and sounds that define her. Occasionally, it’s hard to grasp why she chooses to use a certain object in a particular way, such as a bucket with a light in that she holds when talking to her dad. Generally however the objects in her “80s jumble sale” have an obvious connection to her narrative and act as visual aids.

Words you can’t say…

At the root of Bloodlines is the idea that some things in the past that you share with your family are still present in your thoughts, but hard to talk about; the show asks “how do you speak the unspeakable?” It’s an experimental piece, so Talia doesn’t provide any tangible answers to this question, but she playfully explores a fascinating question through an engaging personal narrative using object-based storytelling, music and spoken word.

This won’t be the last time you hear about Bloodlines, watch this space!

Sabotage Star Rating: ★★★★