Monday, April 22

Seeds – No Stone Theatre

No Stone Theatre were developing a play looking at the legacy of Nikolai Vavilov when everything was stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic. So instead the focus was shifted to create an audio drama podcast drama series, the first of which has been released this week. The subsequent seven episodes will be released weekly on a Wednesday.

Nicolai Vavilov (1887-1943) was a Russian botanist, agronomist and geneticist He was very concerned over the inability of much of the world to escape famine and worked to improve wheat and other cereal crops in the hope of sustaining the world population. He started the world’s first seedbank in Leningrad as part of his ambition to create an easily maintained food source. Unfortunately, he fell foul of Stalin and was arrested and imprisoned in Saratov, dying there a couple of years later.

Seeds interweaves two stories. The first follows four scientists in 1940s Leningrad. The city is ravaged by war and they fight to maintain the seedbank and the development of its ethos while all around them. Alongside this in modern day St Petersburg a woman wakes up in a hospital. She has no memory of herself or why she is there but sees scars and signs of major surgery on her body. Unsure of what’s happened and what she did, she finds her clothes and while staff are distracted, she leaves the hospital to find her answers.

Writer Nick Walker creates a character in the patient who the listener automatically empathises with, and the visual stimulation provided by his words is powerful. Director Nicholas Pitt then builds on the words with clever use of sound effects and stereo effect. Apart from a brief harried conversation between two of the scientists, episode one concentrates entirely on the patient as she wakes and investigates her surroundings in the hospital. Nina Sosanya gives an evocative and quite haunting performance as the patient.

Episode one is a mere fourteen minutes long, just long enough to develop what’s happening and to generate interest in what will happen to the patient. However, having to wait a week for the next episode, which might well be around the fifteen minute mark, makes the whole thing feel very disjointed. The idea of turning the play into a podcast series is brave, but it might well have worked better as an audio drama in one or two parts. However, this reviewer is looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

Reviewer: Helen Jones

Reviewed: 6th October 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★