Emma Geliot's picture

Sand - Sara Lloyd-Gregory 2 (credit Aenne Pallasca)


Nick Gill s powerful monologue delivers multiple perspectives on the impact of weapons of mass destruction, and injects individual personality into acts of gross inhumanity. Emma Geliot reviews a powerful play.

Kate Wasserburg directs Sand as part of The Other Room s Insomnia season. Sara Lloyd Gregory voices a series of viewpoints most convincingly, despite having stepped in at the eleventh hour to take on the role. As the play unfolds, an experience that is often impossible to conceive is humanised and warfare is fragmented into the effects on individuals who, like the play s eponymous grains, themselves break down.

Sand - Sara Lloyd-Gregory  (credit Aenne Pallasca)

The theatre space is tiny, intimate, and the audience in the front row is only just separated from the stage. There s no scope for fudging or attempting to cover up blunders and I am amazed that Lloyd Gregory barely refers to the script in her hand as she takes on one persona, then another, or pulls back to evoke imagined scenes and possible scenarios. In fact, the script seems like an appropriate prop as, early in the play, she is an anxious corporate spokeswoman, papering over the cracks in a project, which slowly reveals itself to be a prototype for a new kind of weaponry. Anyone who has ever played Bullsh*t Bingo at a tedious conference will be familiar with the language of spin and euphemism. Lloyd Gregory strikes just the right balance between hubris and anxiety as she tries to instill a confidence she is clearly not feeling in potential investors.

Sand - Sara Lloyd-Gregory 4 (credit Aenne Pallasca)

But there is also the image of a boy on a swing, screeking as disaster looms. Or another, a woman in a city watching everything around her disintegrate. Time shifts backwards and forwards, as does the setting for each scenario, adding to the sense of fracture. The described imagery is so powerful that a set is almost redundant, but this one works exceptionally well and creates the illusion of more space, of an imagined distance behind the solitary actor, while the lighting and sound add further to a very textured performance without cutting across it.

It has been a long time since I have seen anything about the effects of nuclear war in a creative way, aside from George Barber s recent exhibition Akula Dream at Chapter Arts Centre, which also takes an individual perspective to articulate a mass experience of horror. I don t count Hollywood s apocalyptic scenarios; the CGI and need for action heroes and easily identifiable evil baddies make them easy to dismiss as so much enjoyable (if you re that way inclined) fiction. There s been so little to pique a questioning mind of late. Sand was first performed at the Royal Court in 2013, as the prospect of nuclear war began to resurface in news agendas.

Just weeks after Holocaust Memorial Day and with a resurgence in anti-nuclear marches as the Trident question burns on many lips, the timing for this production is perfect. It serves as a reminder that it is not the figureheads of super powers, nor faceless armies who bear the brunt of attack, but thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of ordinary people with their own stories, their own little lives and their memories of swinging free in the air on a squeaky swing.

Sand - Sara Lloyd-Gregory 1 (credit Aenne Pallasca)

The pacing is subtle, the delivery shifts from almost dry, objective observation to something that can only be described as a verbal meltdown. Sentences fracture as we reach the final minutes of this astonishing performance as ideas overlap, blot each other out, crash into each other until, like the individuals atomised by the dropped bombs, everything is reduced to particles, granulated into uniform matter with no persona or memory. Like Sand.

The Other Room is at Porter's, Cardiff


Performer: Sara Lloyd-Gregory; Director: Kate Wasserberg; Designer: Amy Jane Cook; Stage Manager: Steffi Pickering; Lighting Designer: Katy Morison; Insomnia Season Sound Design: Dyfan Jones; Assistant Stage Manager: Izzy Rabey; Assistant Director: Bruno Ch vez; Sand Sound Design; Sam Jones; Design Assistant: Oliver Harman; Scenic Construction: Eifion Porter

All Images: Aenne Pallascacourtesy of The Other Room