Written by Cara Wilson, Ella Hällgren, Carly Wilson & Tanyaradzwa Gimani
There’s something about the woods, a land where stories are forged and mistakes made. An aspect of the direct connection with something earthen, and primal, brings out a mechanic of the emotional connection we often lose within the confines of concrete and glass – and in this world of storytelling, Untie My Tongue Theatre Company enables its writers and performers the ability to be free, to be loud, to be unforgiving.
Their outing production, WOODED, is a collective of four tales staged under the same canopy of trees at night, but wholly individual in development and communication.
Chartering the course of the show with four titles; Strangers, Sisters, Strings and Shadows, Untie My Tongue is to be commended for branching out and tackling a diverse and intimate array of familial and personal demons. Most notably, Tanyaradzwa Gimani’s outburst towards the climax of the entire show, a raw and stinging moment in the reluctance to move on, is a thoroughly touching portrayal. Methodical, their approach to the chemistry they share with Claudia Lang is an authentic one, which comes over as the sincerest of the evening’s writing.
While Sarah’s struggles with their reluctance to say goodbye – in another part of the woodland Betty and Anna toil to fill a hole. A hole with something, or someone, inside. We’re never given the optics of the exact nature, a terrifically clever choice, as it enables Hannah Taylor-Parkes and Cara Watson the ability to hones focus on their relationship, frayed as it may be, Taylor-Parkes a driving force throughout the sequence, a fine balance to Watson’s more fragile and anxious energy as sister Betty.
Providing necessary humour, Strings, a tale of coming home and forgiveness has the most significant portions of recognisable aspects for most audiences, along with the clearest humour through Carly Wilson’s writing. Together with Ella Hällgren, it’s a relatively simple piece, benefiting from Johan and Jakob Hällgren’s music, which will find foundations with many, enabling the pair to demonstrate comedic timing, as well as the limitations of the character with forgiveness, but is missing an additional aspect of dread, or pain the others possess.
Unlike these preceding three stories, our initial introduction to the woods is of a sole woman – Auden, played by Maungo Pelekekae as they venture into the darkness alone, transfixed by the scent of a cigarette and the broken, muddied footprints of a stranger in front. It’s a powerful opener, which holds attention, Pelekekae taking on a tremendous task in maintaining the stage alone, with little issue, but there’s a lack of direction for Strangers. There feels like there’s something more, lurking behind Auden’s eyes which are never fully fleshed out, as Auden seems to be the closest the audience receives as someone straddling the lines of another’s story.
In truth, there is no drawback or true negative to WOODED’s writing, but becomes lost in the wood of its creation – the proverbial forest for the trees comes to mind. Looking at the writing credits, an evident issue emerges in the lacking synergy across the production as the four stories have separate writers, but not one overarching creative direction. And while the separate narratives are within their realms, the overall production teases meetings or moments where the threads would naturally cross over.
WOODED feels less like an anthology, and more like a culmination which never arises. There’s perhaps too much taken for granted by the audience, especially to the connections of character. And while the intimacies and ins and outs are not vital, it does confuse the power dynamics, or understanding if one person’s ‘home’ is a familial, or romantic one.
What Untie My Tongue demonstrates in droves is a capacity to push forward, to generate a hive of interest and activity for female creatives across Scotland. WOODED is a personal, and ambitious start, which weaves together choice performances with an intrinsically captivating idea. From the dread of the unknown to the relationships our performers present, there’s something remarkable waiting in the undergrowth of this theatrical production company, something with a voice capable of stirring the trees and shaking away the dead leaves which clutter the industry.