I saw a tremendous performance in between panels at the recent British Theatre Conference at Warwick Arts Centre (in the car park). The Caravan is a ‘documentary theatre piece about the British Floods of Summer 2007’. It’s a piece performed in a caravan to a limited audience of eight that’s based on an extensive series of interviews with flood victims.
The Caravan is appropriately ‘up close and personal’ and offers an intimate perspective on a devastating natural disaster. Beginning with the dreary sounds of torrential rain battering a plastic window, we see a woman navigating her miniscule kitchenette. She addresses us, the audience, looking each of us in the eye as she tells us, plainly and matter-of-factly, about her situation. Her brief story is followed by accounts from other flood victims; each one distinct, the tales mixing humour with pain, and the banal with the absurd. The performance provided a real insight into the effects (both short term and long-lasting) of such a widespread and unexpected occurrence, including reports from the couple who started becoming ‘experts’ on floodplains and the environment, and the lady that couldn’t help but partly attribute her miscarriage to the stresses of losing a home and living in limbo for over eighteen months. The eye contact, and the way the stories were told, offered a palpable sense of what it must be like to interview someone who has been cooped up in a caravan, trying to piece their life back together. Though the flooding was widely reported on at the time, it has now virtually disappeared from the news, and the many people that are still suffering from and dealing with the after effects are virtually invisible.
Of course, the mark of a really good show is one that you make a personal connection with. The area that I grew up in was badly affected by the floods, though my family were fortunate enough to avoid any catastrophe and lucky enough to get a few ‘flood days’ off work. The performers pulled of a wonderfully varied and authentic spectrum of yorkshire dialects that felt like a little gift from home, and made the stories and the characters all the more real.