Lets just admit it. We’ve all done it. We’ve done it when we’re sitting on the tube. We’ve done it when we’re working alone in a coffee shop. You’ve probably even put headphones in to pretend that you weren’t doing it (even though you definitely were). Eavesdropping. Raise your hand if you’re guilty.
It’s a great concept for a show. People say the most bizarre (and honest) things when they think no one is listening. The cast spent weeks covertly recording conversations that were ultimately woven together to become Eavesdropping. The set is simple, which serves the space, and consists of only three chairs and some shelves where all of the props are kept. They kept the text exactly as is, only changing the characters gender, situation and location.
Eavesdropping is a great idea if slightly mishandled. While people do say the most absurd things, not all of those things actually make sense in terms of a narrative. Verbatim theatre works because there is a writer who then rearranges the text when need be to create a story. Each scene is between 1-5 minutes long, with each actor playing a variety of roles. While some of these snippets are fascinating and are able to stand alone, the text as a whole would’ve been stronger had there been some sort of through-line.
Having said this, a text of this nature really does put actors to the test. While all of the actors are clearly talented, they sometimes have a tendency to slip into caricature in the shorter scenes. The beauty of a script like this is that real people actually did say these words, and for a piece like Eavesdropping that must be honored.
The strongest performances were from the actors who had a clear backstory for each of their roles. Stephanie Manton, for instance, presented a monologue about spending three years in prison with such conviction and intensity that I was desperate to learn more. Anna Bonnett, who has a lovely wistful quality about her, is at her best when she engages directly with the audience. Lara Bell navigates several roles with skillful storytelling and clear character choices (there was a great piece about a woman who got her laptop by some questionable means). Jack Cronin steals the show with his closing monologue and makes you wonder if he’s been sorely underused in this production. Lovely performances by Sarah Kerr and the rest of the company support this show, but unfortunately the text doesn’t always serve them well.
It is almost hard to believe some of these stolen conversations, as poignant as they can be, were offered in public at all. If anything, it should serve as a reminder that people love to connect with others through storytelling and shared experiences. With a run time of only roughly an hour and a half, it’s certainly worth going along. Who knows? You may even find they’ve been eavesdropping on you…
Angel Theatre Company is dedicated to bridging the gap between drama school training and working professionally as an actor. Eavesdropping is on at the Baron’s Court Theatre until July 16. Tickets cost £14 (£10 concessions). For more information and to book please see their website: http://angeltheatrecompany.co.uk