For eight years All Things Considered has been quietly but powerfully ploughing their own unique, socially engaged theatre furrow in Liverpool – encouraging conversations between people through intimate, participatory and immersive performance, and exploring topics from male suicide to parenthood and poverty. Their new play, The Storm Shepherd, is an extremely up close & personal, absorbing audio-kinetic/sensory/tactile and interactive experience for adults and children. And it’s brilliant!
Written by ATC stalwart Stuart Crowther, The Storm Shepherd takes place in audience homes, ears and imaginations, as participants are issued with an online audio link, plus a physical storytelling pack through the post. (The initial glee I experienced unboxing the beautifully compact and colourful cornucopia with its DIY build paper house and tiny packet of snow took me immediately & joyfully back to primary school years.) Premiering also at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, where many of the children have not left their rooms for a year, the play is also intended to enable the children to escape their hospital rooms for a while.
We follow Scur – a child entrusted with the job of ‘Storm Shepherd’ (voiced enthusiastically and with a compelling Welsh lilt by Harrison Scott- Smith) – as they embark on a stormy odyssey. Via compelling directives from the narrator (Natasha Hale), we are given the images and the physical tools for immersion in Scur’s world; all of our senses are guided – and that giving up of control to the narrative as we journey alongside Scur feels wonderfully liberating after the control of lockdown. We listen, feel and visualise our way through Scur’s trials, as they coax the elements out of their fear and into liberation. In this imagined world, a child has the responsibility to provide help, hope & freedom: the theme is overcoming fear, with the storm as the metaphor for all the things that frighten us – and with some arch referencing of Jaws & The Exorcist for the adults.
Sound designer & composer Stephen Hull has done a masterful job in creating a binaural world – from the domestic clatter of cups and the whistling of a kettle to the howl of a full blown storm. The soundscape is almost too much at times – and is possibly overpowering due to the lack of such defined sensory input over the Covid months; however, after some initial jumpiness, you quickly become gripped and closely attuned to every whisper & crash.
This interactive, problem solving journey also genuinely creates a sense of calm & empowerment for the listener after the mental & emotional stresses of lockdown – & affords an oasis of peace, reflection and re-connection for adults and children. Director Sarah Hogarth has said, “Storm Shepherd invites a child and their grown-up to switch off their screens and switch on their imaginations as they experience together the magic of the big and little things that matter in life.”
Metaphorical & poetic, punning & at times falling into rhyme, this piece stays just the right side of whimsy and fairy-tale – and coming at the end of a virtual imprisonment, maybe we all need a little magical escapism.
At a bite-sized 40 minutes, the play’s length feels just right to allow for little ones’ concentration spans, and although the pack suggests families listen in a darkened room & I was in a full blast of sunshine and without a child, it was still atmospheric and affecting.
So, a pretty perfect, magical & unique little gem, exploring our fears in an entrancing, intimate and beautiful form. Catch the storm while you can. Although I do have one question? Does anybody actually drink ‘hot orange squash’?…
Playing online until the 10th May https://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/the-storm-shepherd/
Reviewer: Tracy Ryan
Reviewed: 5th May 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★