In Motion Theatre Company’s first touring production Where the Crow Flies premiered on Tuesday 18 October, with a well-attended performance at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Talking Heads reporter Rachel Alexander reviewed this authentic and affecting piece of theatre, which is touring with SMHAFF until Thursday 3 November.
Commissioned by Sense over Sectarianism, in association with the Scottish Government, Where the Crow Flies was based on extensive research carried out with around fifteen women from a parenting group in Blackburn, West Lothian. Playwright Lisa Nicoll met with these women over a period of eight weeks, and, although the play is not about them, Nicoll and director Beth Morton are happy with the way in which the play has captured their essence. Following writing and development, Nicoll and Morton took the play back to the women in the community and sought their feedback, and the result of this collaborative means of working is an incredibly authentic and affecting piece of theatre.
Where the Crow Flies tells the story of young mother Carrie, whose husband has been jailed for a violent crime he claims not to have committed. As a result of this, she has been ostracised by the community in which she lives. But when new neighbour Emily moves in next door, the two women begin to form a connection, despite Emily’s own multifarious issues.
The stage is set up to show two homes, with most space devoted to the adjoining back gardens. This is where the two women were most often, on either side of the low wall that separated their gardens. Carrie’s side of the stage was messy and strewn with clothes and rubbish, reflecting her chaotic state of mind. Although Emily’s side initially looked more composed and collected, by the end of the play it was clear that it similarly reflected her mental state and there were a lot of feelings that she was avoiding dealing with.
At regular intervals throughout the play, the loud and discordant noise of crows cawing was heard. An audience member at the Q&A after the performance characterised these crows as ‘threatening observers’, something that Nicoll was quick to agree with. Morton too saw the crows as representative of the community and their repeated cries throughout the play were intended to stress that in this community you are never alone; there are always others watching and listening.
Graffiti was sprayed across the house at regular intervals: aggressive words and taunts such as ‘traitor’ and ‘phone sex slut’. In a similar fashion to the crows, this was an effective way to suggest the presence of a wider community in a play with just two actors. The graffiti also introduced the motif of attaching labels to people, something explored throughout the play. The way that the women responded to the labels they were given was really interesting, especially Carrie who tells Emily: ‘Ah’m just seen as scum.’
The Q&A session that followed the play involved writer Nicoll, director Morton, and actors Keira Lucchesi and Angela Darcy. Darcy spoke about how she had initially felt that it was unrealistic for women to make such close bonds so quickly, but, after speaking to the women in Blackburn, she realised that circumstances did often lead people to become very close, very quickly. It’s certainly true that necessity often forges connections, and in this play the two women really did need one another.
Nicoll encouraged the other women on the panel to speak about the character of Annabelle, and, without giving too much away, the ambiguity surrounding Emily’s wee girl is intended. Morton was very happy to deliberately leave an element of uncertainty there for the audience and allow them to reach their own conclusions about this particular element of the narrative.
The play did a superb job of exploring isolation and Nicoll talked a little at the end of the Q&A about the idea that living really close to other people, perhaps even only separated by a thin wall, we still often have no idea what other people are dealing with.
In Motion Theatre Company’s next production is a play called Caravan, and, if Where the Crow Flies is anything to go by, it will be one to watch out for.
by Rachel Alexander
Where the Crow Flies is touring with the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival until Thursday 3 November. Full listings and booking information below. Images by Mihaela Bodlovic.
Fri 21 Oct, 7.30–8.45pm
Eastwood Park Theatre, Rouken Glen Road, Giffnock G46 6UG
£13 | £11 | 0141 577 4970
Tue 25 Oct, 7.30–8.45pm
Bathgate Regal Theatre, 24 North Bridge Street, Bathgate EH48 4PS
£10 | 01506 630 085 | BATHGATEREGAL.CLOUDVENTURE.CO.UK
Wed 26 Oct, 7.30–8.45pm
Paisley Arts Centre, 15 New Street, Paisley PA1 1EZ
£10 | £6 | 0300 300 1210 | RENFREWSHIRELEISURE.COM
Wed 2 & Thu 3 Nov, 8–9.15pm
63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HB
£10 | £7.50 | 0141 552 4267 | TRON.CO.UK