Review: In a Cave a Voice
A haunting audio-immersive production set in the Neolithic period that calls us to turn our room into a cave
The Pembroke Players’ audio-immersive production, In a Cave a Voice, transports the listener back to the Neolithic period where we meet an unnamed cavegirl (played by Claire Chung). She has been left to keep watch of the cave whilst her family search for the missing herd of cows, acting as “the voice in the cave, waiting behind to call them home”, as she calls herself. Alone for weeks, she invites in a spirit from the Darkness and tells him stories, which in reality serves her more than him, as a means of comfort and keeping her mind alive.
In a Cave a Voice worked better than any other audio production that I’ve listened to, which is to the credit of director Lilian Waddington’s dedication to keeping it fully immersive throughout. At the start, a voice instructs us to close the curtains to plummet ourselves into total darkness, except from the device on which we are listening to this; we are told to switch off the central heating, if possible. For the next 55 minutes, the room will become our cave and the glaring laptop screen acts as a fire. This description of the parameters of the cave, along with the eerie and earthy hums that underlay the instructing voice, immediately evoke a sense of the prehistoric.
It’s a time period that we see so little of in theatre and literature, but Rebekah King, the writer, explores it so wonderfully in this hauntingly beautiful ode to storytelling. Over the course of the production, we move from meditations on death and our inability to know what’s out there – outside the cave, over the horizon, and after life – to much lighter, moments.
The cavegirl weaves together layers of stories within stories as she tells the spirit about sibling rivalries, the dynamics of her close-knit family, and issues with the herd. She is naïve, funny, and scatty at times, but brave and wise beyond her years at others. Claire Chung’s sensitive voice manages to make a world from which we are so temporally removed somehow quite relatable, as well as punctuating the play with effective comedy.
In the second half, we get tangled up in faux philosophical musings and the story begins to drag a little (though this is bound to occur in what is essentially a fifty-minute monologue); however, the imaginative score by composer Lily Blundell saves the day and is my personal highlight of the production.
Crackles of fire, shallow breaths, echoes, and distant drops of water are among the sounds that ricochet around the cave, creating a feeling of latent threat. As the girl relates a story that her brother told her about the “skinless man”, there is an ominous chorus of footsteps, chanting, and drumbeats getting faster and faster. The listener, like the cavegirl, is on edge, wondering what sound will creep up on us next – what lies hidden in the darkness? Hats off to the accessibility director, Holly Jones, for capturing these nuances in sound really well in the captioning.
What I enjoyed most about the score were the layers of the acappella voices. Lily Blundell constructs her image of the prehistoric musical landscape in such an interesting way and perfectly emulates the eerily lonely story that the cavegirl tells. The percussive female voices sound like melodies you would perhaps hear if the earth could speak.
In a Cave a Voice is among 12-14 other student productions that have been selected for the National Student Drama Festival 2021. I was lucky enough to catch to preview and I highly recommend you sign up here to get tickets for the festival, where it will be showing at 7:30pm on 31st March. The National Student Drama Festival is putting on a wide range of events over the weekend, such as workshops on writing, directing, budgeting, casting, reviewing, so the Festival is most certainly worth attending!
If the weeks of self-isolation in the past year have taught us anything, it is about the importance of storytelling and our imagination in (paradoxically) keeping us grounded. In a Cave a Voice seems to pick up on this lockdown theme right from the start as we are told to make our room a cave – I’m sure many of us have felt exactly like that in the past year, trapped by the surrounding four walls. However, with the help of this production, our own monotonous rooms are finally made to feel alive.
Feature image credit: Anna Mahtani
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