BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 109

Raymondo at Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Annie Siddons’ brilliant Raymondo was a casualty of Bonfire Night. It also clashed with ‘Festival of the Spoken Nerd’ in the main theatre of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and when the doors closed on the performance studio there were only four of us in the audience. I’ve been brooding about it all week because it was one of the best pieces of storytelling I’ve ever seen and it really needed to be witnessed by a much bigger audience.

A 2014 Edinburgh Fringe favourite, Annie Siddons’ story is about two brothers, Raymondo and his little brother Sparky, who escape from the cellar in which they’ve been locked by their mother. Their understanding of the world comes from a stack of forgotten Playboy magazines, and all they take with them is their handmade Cape of OK. They are soon taken in by two kind sisters, but when the women suddenly disappear Raymondo is forced to sell the Cape. Imbued with the power of childhood resilience, the Cape of OK makes its wearer feel, well, OK. The sensation is so astounding that it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, and Raymondo and Sparky end up working on a production line plucking pigeon feathers and sewing them into imitations of the Cape of OK. Sparky soon becomes ill, and Raymondo has to abandon his childhood in order to escape their dire situation. Both humorous and heartbreaking, ‘Raymondo’ explores a spectrum of humanity. Siddons shows people at their best and worst and demonstrates the ways in which small acts can lead to much greater consequences. The narrative tingled with obscurity, but was sometimes snapped tight with moments of angry lucidity. It was a bittersweet story celebrating the strength of relationships in the most miserable of circumstances.

The Arts Centre’s performance studio suited the production well. Set up like a 1960s living room, the set was littered with vintage lamps of all shapes and sizes. Annie Siddons, to a dream-like soundtrack performed by Tom Adams, took up the microphone and began to tell the tale. Apart from the occasional musical interlude and the dimming of the lights in correspondence with the tone, ‘Raymondo’ was nothing more complicated than a bedtime story for adults. Siddons tore away the layers of modern storytelling and brought the magic of simplicity back to the surface.

As I’ve been thinking back to the evening to write this review, I remember Siddons and Adams, but another part of my mind is full of images of Raymondo and Sparky and their Cape of OK. During the climax of the story, Siddons likened the scene to a graphic novel, and I think this is a perfect allusion to make. Not only did the theme fondly remind me of my favourite graphic novel, Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, but Siddons had a fantastic way of painting with words that at times involved a similar imaginative process to connecting the panels in a comic. It rekindled all the enjoyment of primary school story-time, but also simmered with the dark humour of adulthood. Siddons here created a story with incredibly vivid and rich language and recited it with masterful control over pace, volume, accent and facial expression.

At the end of the performance, we applauded as loud as we could to make up for our number. There was a lovely intimacy at the end, as though we’d all somehow bonded through the shared experience of witnessing this story. Siddons gave us each a copy of the play text, published by Oberon in August this year, and even though it won’t have the same effect as listening to the performance, I urge you to get a copy. I hope Annie Siddons and crew don’t remember Aberystwyth for its disappointingly small audience. Even though only four people saw the play, it was an incredibly special show for each of us and I’ll continue to tell people about it for a long time.

Alice Vernon is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Creative Writing.

‘Raymondo’ was at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 5 November. The play Raymondo by Annie Siddons was published by Oberon in August.

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