Reviewed by Flossie Waite
Helios Theater – a collaborative production with Teatr Atrofi
Reviewed at the Studio at Festival Theatre as part of Imaginate Festival
At Imaginate Festival 30th-31st May
For ages 2-5

Well. Day 3 of Imaginate Festival and I’ve already been sent down a philosophical rabbit-hole before lunchtime. Watching Traces today in the Studio at Festival Theatre, I started to think about a particular Linguistics lesson at uni when my tutor introduced some of Derrida’s ideas (and my peers and I spent the rest of the day with our minds completely blown). I’m not going to start talking about différance and deconstruction – I couldn’t even if I tried – but the ideas of absence and presence, individual meaning-making and narrative, interpretation and identity, explored through the creation of seemingly random signs and symbols, reminded me of Derrida, Saussure and co. Traces definitely isn’t Derrida for kids, but the idea that a play for 2-5 year olds – a play that the young audience really enjoyed – spoke to me in that way indicates that this seemingly simple production probes considerable depths.

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“Our lives leave imprints all around us – in the sand, on surfaces and on scraps of paper – to let others know where we have been. Our traces gently guide others in their very first steps”: so the Imaginate blurb describes the ideas explored in Traces. Helios Theater have found a way to investigate and articulate these concepts largely without words, but through actions and the on-stage creation of traces, both physical – through sand, with chalk – and intangible – using memory and music.

The two performers (Michael Lurse and Marko Werner) begin creating traces before the audience have even made it into the auditorium, using chalk to draw around hats and hands on the foyer’s tables and floor, dropping scraps of paper that become a pathway into the studio, and generally leaving the messy sort of traces that a young child might. The idea of traces seems especially relevant with a young audience, in a state of being that is associated with growth and change – it’s why parents create casts of little handprints, the lasting trace of the way their child once was.

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Within the studio, Lurse and Werner continue to play, tracing around their hats and bodies, pouring sand across the floor and making shapes in it: their purpose is private, and their patterns unintelligible. After a time, recordings of children saying their names are played, and Lurse and Werner begin dashing about, creating squiggles to correspond with with each name. Now that every additional scribble denotes a person, it seems possible that every doodle the pair have created has meaning – they are transformed from senseless squiggles into traces of an identity. A similar alchemical process happens at the end – each child is gifted a scrap of paper, which is given and received as if it were specially created just for them. The scraps are actually what looks like ripped up bits of Imaginate flyer, but they have undergone a transformation before our eyes. We watched the ritualistic way similar pieces of paper were carefully placed throughout the studio, picked up and considered as though they were revealing and significant, so they now become a meaningful souvenir of the experience. The children treasured them as they left the studio.

This review has the traces of the drafts that went before it, as I attempted to outline other reflections and draw them all together into some vaguely cohesive larger point. As you can probably tell, I’ve abandoned that approach – the pleasure of Traces is that it could be unravelled and unpicked for hours: all through lunchtime, into the afternoon, and perhaps during dinner too.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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