by Thea Hartman, Arts Ambassador
A well-known figure in the Southampton arts scene, as well as an Artist Facilitator for the University of Southampton-led project Connecting Culture (focused on understanding the impact of the arts on Southampton-based young people aged 5-25), Anna Carr is a theatre maker who works across different platforms to create autobiographical theatre experiences.
Kindred is one such experience. The self-produced show, exploring the story of Carr’s grandparents and seeking to understand the harrowing experience of abuse undergone by her grandmother, was part of the a celebration of Sotonian theatre, the Make it SO Festival. The festival took place in NST City’s Studio space across most of February and showcased 19 ‘work-in-progress’ productions, proving just how much exciting theatre is being made locally.
It’s undeniable that both the premise of the festival and of the show bring a sense of hope to the theatre goer in search of local art. However, alongside this sense of hope, watching a work in progress production brings about a new set of questions for someone who has never seen one before: what do you expect from an unfinished product? Have I even ever sat through a theatre production with no conclusion?
I definitely had not; and whilst I found myself imagining a conclusion, the satisfaction of having watched the production was still very much there. Seeing a show that never pretends to be anything else other than what it is – a work-in-progress – is a refreshing, authentic experience, very well-suited to what the show was actually about: Carr herself working towards finding and understanding the story of her grandparents.
Kindred shows that sometimes our stories themselves are works-in-progress: real life doesn’t work with plot points and dramatic techniques, no matter how much we crave them as listeners to a story. Carr clearly stated at the very beginning of the show that she still did not have all the puzzle pieces of the story due to her grandparents’ secretiveness and the general taboo-mentality surrounding abuse.
However, the puzzle pieces that she did have were put together onstage thoughtfully and authentically, acknowledging that they did not represent a whole. From her grandmother’s letters acted out, to audio interviews with other members of her family, to photos and videos of the pair, her own childhood memories and, most significantly, pairs of old shoes bringing her grandparents to life, Carr’s story showed a multi-dimensionality from which she did not run away. Instead, she embraced it by using a multitude of media, making Kindred an auditory, visual, and even tactile experience (by passing a plate full of chocolate around the audience).
It definitely takes a huge amount of bravery to share this deeply personal story through a visceral, powerful, unfinished theatrical experience. Unravelling the skeletons in one’s family closet is always a painful journey, and Carr’s Kindred brings that to light, prompting members of the audience to think about their own families and their own discoveries.
What is most admirable about her undertaking, however, is how she is constantly looking for the right way to tell this story authentically, with the next sharing of the show being scheduled for May this year. Even if theatre does not require factual accuracy, Carr doesn’t jump to fictionalise a conclusion to satisfy the audience and cut short the journey of writing and producing Kindred. Instead, she allows her creativity to turn the journey itself into the main story – something inspiring to all of us whose stories have no satisfying conclusion in sight.