Heads or Tails is a solo play written and performed by Skye Hallam for The Living Record Festival that asks us to deliberate the afterlife, our hang-ups about life (or those around our imminent death), and the decisions we make our in present ways of living.
Presented as a 40-minute filmed performance that uses the free/shaky camera technique and has Skye speaking directly to the viewer, this piece makes you giggle, listen and reflect by exploring the life (and afterlife) of Steph, an actress gone in her prime who has now returned to the mortal world for one last show. By sharing candid experiences about the final years leading up to her untimely death and her encounters in heaven, particularly with God herself (please note the pronoun), Steph intends on sharing practical tips, suggestions and observations for those watching on how to ‘make it’ in Heaven and let go of all the earthly anxieties that we’re carrying around at the moment.
I was deeply drawn by the text itself – sharp, full of heart and vulnerable – that makes the character of Steph highly relatable. Having spent three years in the afterlife in the presence of other heavenly souls and God herself (please, do note the pronoun), Steph’s divine wisdom touches upon a myriad of topics – cancel culture (and why we need to take ourselves less seriously), capitalism’s attempt to claim mindfulness (wellness apps, please take a break), the fear of dying alone (aka the reason why we do everything we do on this blue marble) and finally, the anxieties of modern-day mortal life (and how they don’t carry over in the afterlife unless you let them!). Steph speaks to you like a friend, her words finding a delicate balance between preaching and ranting which are interspersed with a choice selection of pop culture references that make you chuckle and sigh about some of the decisions we (and God) makes every day.
Skye draws you in completely with a powerful performance, delivering the monologue with assured confidence, ease and a flow that captures the various stages of the character’s emotional vulnerability as their time on Earth runs out. Subtle movements and gestures complemented by some deft camerawork allow her to deliver a natural performance with a certain tint of absurdity because, well, it’s a ‘dead’ person talking to a ‘live’ audience in the space. The very last minute of the piece has Skye deliver a quick fire sermon of confessions, advice, forewarnings and promises that tugs at you like the last words of someone you’ve known briefly but still feel a profound connection to. The production choices made add a lot of value to the viewing experience – the soft, subtle light design moves with the shifts in emotional weight in different sections of the text while the camera angles do justice to the ‘close, yet strangely distant’ quality of the character by dispensing the ‘fixed angle’ technique, perhaps alluding to the indecisive, distracted spirit of the one speaking and the ones watching.
To summarize, this heart-warming show invites you to consider life after death with a sense of wonder, kindness and self-assuredness that makes you appreciate (and perhaps, influence) your ‘living’ days a little more. After all, we all gotta go someday so better prepare ahead.
You can hear Heads or Tails on The Living Record Festival’s website
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 7th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★