Untouchable Voices

Sat 20th – Sun 21st August 2011

reviews

Lise McNally

at 10:14 on 22nd Aug 2011

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It is rather difficult to do credit to the remarkable beauty of Untouchable Voices in 300 words. This superbly crafted piece by Tabea Mangelsdorf and Anna Procter gives voice to the untold stories of the Dalits of India, but then it does something with them which is rather unusual for mission theatre; it lets them be.

A series of painfully believable monologues give an insight into the Dalits’ struggle for rights without didacticism or one hint of preaching, and the impact is all the more powerful for it. When a small boy finishes an excited retelling of a Maharana’s magical library to ask “Papa, why can’t I go to school anymore?” the silence which follows is more effective than a hundred speeches on education. Music swells into the spaces left by speech, and the audience is given time to think and reflect between each terrible but beautiful scene.

The script is composed of a variety of monologues from figures including an outcast old woman and a wealthy Brahmin. Their words linger and play against each other in a collage of experience which is clever and beautiful, as human ignorance and misunderstanding are juxtaposed with the individual voice. Procter is a masterful performer, possessing the stage with her expressive face and remarkable vocal ability. Not only was she able to summon a wholly convincing Indian accent, but also to create a distinction between women of various ages and class. Portraying herself journeying through India with an endearing naivety, she creates a contrast between revolution and resignation which is truly touching.

A simple set of candles and a few artfully draped pashminas come alive under the skilled manipulation of movement and sound. Turning her scarves into saris, babies and cleaning rags, Procter possesses the visual space. Original songs performed live by Mangelsdorf are a perfect complement to the script and stage. Her voice is expressive and soulful, inviting the audience to consider and reflect on the scenes they have just witnessed.

With its admirable premise and its flawless execution, Untouchable Voices is an unmissable production that will stay with you long after the final lingering note has died away.

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Bethany Knibb

at 11:30 on 22nd Aug 2011

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You might be forgiven for passing over “Untouchable Voices” when looking for something to see in the Fringe – it looks like so many of the other shows (apparently fulfilling the pretentious cliché of trying to change the world, with their tagline being: “indifference ends as listening begins”) and the advert is reminiscent of an “Actionaid Sponsor a Child” advert. However – and this is a big however – it’s different.

Anna Procter and Tabea Mangelsdorf present a stunningly sensitive and interesting piece that approaches the subject of the Indian caste system without ramming it down your throat. The structure of the production is a beautiful blend of song, piano and monologues from interviews they carried out on a visit to India. On the whole, “Untouchable Voices” is more of a presentation of what the pair saw when they were there, rather than pressuring the audience to take responsibility for the failings in the social system in India and try and effect change. I imagine this piece would be even more emotive if you’ve been to India and can therefore better connect with the characters presented to you.

I was especially impressed with Procter’s powers of observation – she told the stories with great character and intensity. With the aid of only a few different coloured scarves she transforms by her expressions and manner into the characters of the Indians she met. In just a fifteen minute period she perfectly captures the essence of both a 60-year old woman and a young child telling a story.

Mangelsdorf’s singing is also excellent and, while not specifically of the Indian genre, the lyrics speak powerfully of their experiences in India. The pair are at their best when singing together – their floating harmonies are almost bewitching and for the hour or so you can really appreciate and understand the pair, and what they got out of their trip.

My only quarrel with this production would be that some of the individual monologues are quite long and therefore the power and intensity of the character is diluted. Otherwise, I find it difficult to find fault in this incisive depiction of the Hindu caste system.

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