Elin Williams reviews Llais/ Voice by Elgan Rhys inspired by Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who revealed her torment and depression through a series of flashcards via YouTube before her suicide in 2012.
Performed at: Sherman Theatre, Cardiff; National Eisteddfod, Llanelli; Fringe Festival, Edinburgh
Elgan Rhys’ original production Llais/Voice is an alternative performance that explores a poignant issue. Rhys’ production is inspired by Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who revealed her torment and depression through a series of flashcards via YouTube before her suicide in 2012. The video subsequently went viral. Rhys revealed that Todd’s video affected him personally, as it did many people around the globe, and so he felt compelled to create a production using her tragic video as a springboard. As Rhys confesses himself, his situation is completely different to Amanda Todd’s, but he uses flashcards as a device in his own show to communicate things that perhaps are difficult to say out loud. The forty minute piece is an exploration into Rhys’ own life told only through actions, music and of course, flashcards.
The production begins with a slideshow of Rhys’ life. Photos appear on two big screens which are situated where all audience members can see. Rhys and the musician enter and Rhys begins to remove his clothes to music. He reveals later on that wearing clothes equals responsibility to him, which gives the action more meaning. The next forty minutes is essentially a narrative of Rhys’ experiences, enhanced through the sound of acoustic guitar playing. Rhys does not speak throughout the performance, making it more of a blank slate which gives the audience a chance to interpret themselves. This does pose problems for those who perhaps do not know Elgan personally, as at times the action is vague and inaccessible. The production would benefit from having some explicit actions that punctuate the narrative of the piece in order to signpost different subjects or happenings for the audience.
In terms of production, the space is used well with an in-the-round staging providing the intimacy the production needs. Original music is used skilfully to influence the audience and hint to a specific atmosphere, but the production needs more than just the music. This of course does come at the end with the reveal of the ubiquitous flashcards which tempt us into believing that all will be revealed. When Rhys sets himself up in front of his MacBook, flashcards in hand, the audience assumes we will get an explicit insight into the experiences which make up the production, but frustratingly, the ambiguity continues. The flashcards, although they do imply some experiences, do not really clarify anything. Perhaps this is the point and the audience is meant to interpret the performance for themselves, but more information would have helped reduce the feeling of confusion for some audience members.
Rhys’ production is a passionate personal performance which explores a deeply poignant subject, but the level of personal experience is difficult for outside audience members to penetrate. The performance is completely bilingual which is rare in Wales, and this fact alone is worth complimenting. The performance shows great promise in terms of original concept and acting skills, but more needs to be done in order to ensure the narrative is not completely lost on its audience members.