[Written by Jay Sutherland]
[Image Credits: Alex Brenner]
As I walked into the Tron, I found myself surrounded by elderly people waiting in line at the bar. They were going to see a play that I had never heard of, but I was told by the people in the queue that it was ‘a classic’. I couldn’t help but think about the one I was going to see: Fallen Fruit, set in a time way before I was even born. I generally would like to think I know enough about the events of the time period this play explored because of my lectures and of my visits to modern day Eastern Europe, but when watching this performance, I soon realised it doesn’t amount to the experience of an individual who lived it personally.
When I walked into the small room where the play was held, it didn’t feel crammed, instead it was cozy and familiar, mostly due to the fact that performer and writer Katherina Radeva welcomed everyone. Through her warm engagement, it felt like we all knew her instantly, as if we were being welcomed by an old friend. For example, someone at the front curiously asked what she was drinking. She responded and this initiated a playful discourse about the yellow cup she was holding, which had Nesquik branding on it. This interaction broke the tradition of the audience merely being there to observe — it felt like a common conversation in someone’s life and not the premise to a play.
As she asked everyone how they were, what they had to drink and other small-talk questions, she then turned to me. I was by far the youngest in the audience. She asked me if I was peckish. A little surprised as I had never been to a performance where I spoke directly to the performer, I replied I could get hungry and she told me that she had an apple. I could have the apple at any point during the performance, I just had to say: ‘I would like that apple, comrade’. This interaction was a clear departure from the stereotypical theatre experiences I was used to, I felt comfortable, like being at home.
From the start, it was clear the performance was directly linked to the idea of memory and how it shapes us. She started off with what seemed like a nursery exercise in Bulgarian, her native language. It was strange seeing many of the elderly audience members being treated like they were back in school: when the crowd got an answer right they were cheered on by her like a proud teacher whose pupil got everything right. Using small cardboard boxes with the Bulgarian alphabet on it, she explained her story. She used examples from her own life and that of two lovers, Freda and Stacey, taking place in the underground scene of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Their stories dealing with the complexity of relationships, connecting with the politics of the time they were set, it showed us events and emotions we could all relate to. It only took 10 minutes for the audience to be deeply entrenched in the stories, with the same anticipation of reconnecting with someone who you have not spoken to in years, needing to hear everything that happened to them. This was not only due to the interesting plot itself but also because of the way Katherina presented herself and her life: she used time, place, and experiences to successfully build a carefully explained story.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the story raise issues such as the alienation we face through capitalism. The performer did this by describing an old game show that aired during her youth and by the use of provoking statements such as ‘don’t worry we have a McDonalds now and 500 different types of toothbrushes’. Her story basically asked: ‘Was it worth it for consumerism to take over our lives?’ The Fallen Fruit doesn’t give any answers nor is it meant to – its a branch of the wider tree that is Katherina’s own lived experiences. We were surrounded by warm lighting as the performance got close to its end. The Nesquik mug mentioned at the beginning became the subject of one of her childhood stories. After the fall of the Soviet Union and of the living standards that followed, Katherina and her mother were trying to get rations and she managed to catch a yellow box along with the essentials: a box of Nesquik. She told us about the simple enjoyment she got through this chocolate milk drink. This tale reminded us of the simple things we all enjoy and of our shared humanity — the underlying message of Fallen Fruit. For me, this play broke the definition of traditional theatre by making (especially) non-theatre-goers enjoy the experience of a play in a more accessible and comfortable way.