Placeholder – Byre Theatre

Written and performed by Catherine Bisset

Dramaturgy by Jaïrus Obayomi

Directed by Flavia D’Avila

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Watching the world unfold, a play within itself, The Placeholder begins in the very seats our audiences find comfort. No longer a theatre in the sharp, bitter cold of Scotland, but of Port-au-Prince, where Minette awaits her white employer – holding her seat. But in the form of the coaxing nature of performance, the auditorium conjures spirits of the past Minette cannot ignore. Evoking the recurring theme of waiting, watching, rather than acting and transgressing, we transition from spoken word into the production itself, from the familiar seats of The Byre Theatre and onto its compact, yet open stage and the land of what we know recognise as Haiti. 

It is one year until the uprising of rebel slaves, which will be marked in history as the Haitian Revolution. 1790, Saint-Domingue. One year before the reclamation of their identity. And yet, some two-hundred and thirty years later, while aspects of the narrative remain within the pages of books – significant omissions taint our texts, and despite protestations, these lacunas in themselves are significant acts of suppression, control, and violence at the deepest levels of execration. The removal of identity, the systematic decision to erase out of fear, envy, insecurity and prejudice are an all-too-familiar, yet cast aside degradation in history.

An inevitable run-up, particularly with a significantly white Scottish audience, time ebbs and grows in momentum as the production moves forward – and for those audiences beginning to rumble or shift in their seats, the eventual thought-provoking journey will enthral and captivate those willing to open themselves, and defragment already established foundations of discrimination, appropriation, and how our thoughts are controlled.

Significantly down to the well-spoken eloquence in both Catherine Bisset’s performance & writing, their debut piece following its initial outing at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. Traversing the complexity of Minette’s story, that of her owner and the various lives she will encounter. The understanding and method of communication are exemplary – far superior to others of a similar ilk, no doubt aided tremendously by the supporters of this production. And as Bisset moves beneath the drowning azure lighting or the flickers of radio static of characters we meet along the way, there’s a marvel of storytelling here – one which is implored for as many to see as they can.

Extending from the tightly conceived narrative, Jaïrus Obayomi’s dramaturg and Flavia D’Avila’s direction thankfully elevates what at times could be a stagnant piece of spoken word – with power in the text but requiring an infusion of momentum to aid in storytelling. D’Avila’s understanding of the stage and the limitations within provides a measured and delicate production that instils the power of storytelling with Bisset but utilises a canny mix of sound implementation and lighting to bring the required theatricality.

The erasure of slave ownership records. The identities of victims of the concentration camps were erased by fleeing Nazi officers. The continuing use of cultural and heritage destruction, scarring much of the Middle East. Humanity has a track record of systematic and insidious choices in their documentation of history – and rarely are omissions accidental.

The Placeholder upends what many consider to be a ‘respectful’ account of history, unaware of the intention behind its writing – documentation of truth, to an extent, but whose truth. Voices linger in the betwixt & between, cast aside by those who feel threatened, forgotten by all, saved by those who find inspiration in their words. 

Discover more, and how to support the production here.

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