A Thousand Shards of Glass, Mayfest, Bristol
‘Can you walk on broken glass?’ was the urgent question with which I was greeted as I was shown to my seat in a loft above Bristol Old Vic.
‘Erm, I don’t think so.’ I replied, feeling more than a little daft. But at least my question was in English – the previous audience member had been greeted in Arabic…
A Thousand Shards of Glass, directed by Jane Packman and written by Ben Pacey, which I saw as part of Bristol’s Mayfest theatre festival, is a one-man show in which sound is central: it is setting, character, plot and dialogue. The result is a small-scale show which punches well above its weight.
Before the show began, performer Lucy Ellinson warned us not to worry too much about the meanings of the words. Instead, she said, we should let them carry us along without clinging on to literal meaning. And indeed it would be impossible to pin down the exact plot of the piece, but here’s an attempt: our main character – Lucy – seemed to have discovered that the world in which she lived had only two dimensions – coffee tasted like the idea of coffee. And in order to burst back into 3D, she had to get to the top of the tallest building in the city, a glass and steel skyscraper, and sing a song she’d heard in the desert. All the time avoiding the were forces who wanted to stop her.
But that makes A Thousand Shards of Glass sound like nothing more than an audiobook version of The Matrix. And while there were elements that clearly echoed science fiction films like Inception, and spy thrillers like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this production is also about something much more everyday. It is a lovesong to reality, an ode to sensation.
Lewis Gibson’s sound design is nothing short of brilliant. Helicopters hover just above the theatre, lift machinery clanks into life and, perhaps most vividly of all, there’s an explosion of shattered glass. In the dark of the theatre, I’m sure I wasn’t the only member of the audience to flinch.
But what made the hour-long production whizz by was the virtuoso performance from Lucy Ellinson, who immediately and entirely engaged our sympathies, leading us through the barely-there plot just as she’d led us to our seats at the beginning.
Thought-provoking, open-ended and produced to an exceptionally high standard: A Thousand Shards of Glass was experimental theatre at its best.
A Thousand Shards of Glass has just finished its UK tour. Visit the Jane Packman Company website for more information about this and other projects.