Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients was a mixture of the two components I feel are important when it comes to the one man/woman show format. Connecting personally with the audience in a universal way and capturing the little idiosyncrasies of the basis of your story. Tempest’s exploration of two families unravelling is relatable modern tragedy, crafted out of the difficulties in being the everyman. Throughout the play she reminded us directly and indirectly of our relation to “the gods”. Our connection to them symbolising the epic nature of everyday humanity and the loss and triumph inherent in each journey:
“The gods are in the betting shops, the gods are in the cafe,
The gods can’t afford the deposit on their flat…
Winged sandals tearing up the pavement,
Me, you, everyone, brand new ancients” – Brand New Ancients
The effect could easily be sentimental in the worst way. However, Tempest’s blistering delivery, her self awareness conveyed by both charmingly nervous asides and assured segways in and out of the main narrative, and her fully committing to the more idealistic aspects of the play stave off any risk of over-simplifying the complexities of being human. Her conviction literally convinces us of the power of being supposedly average and it is a joy to experience. The Brand New Ancient’s focus on the perfection at the heart of our fallibilities is a positive and rich experience. We left elevated not just by Tempest’s words but by the overall impact of the words with the music (composed by Nell Catchpole and played masterfully by Kwake Bass, Raven Bush, Natasha Zielazinski and Jo Gibson) transporting us from scene to scene.
In my opinion things tend to turn out better if you can access your own experiences in life, your Oprah “inner child” so to speak, when writing a one man/woman show. An audience can sense if it comes from your gut or if you lifted it out of a newspaper story but the tenets of the tale have nothing to do with your experiences. We can tell if the story your telling has no aspects in common with who you are because the quirks are missing. For me, recent solo works such as Brand New Ancient, Polarbear’s Old Me and Inua Ellams’ Black T Shirt Collection have all managed to achieve this sense of connecting the concerns/experiences that shape these artists with the stories they write outside of themselves.