The Small Ones: just outside haunting

The Small Ones

With The Small Ones (on as part of SummerWorks), creator/performer Shannon Roszell is really trying something. It’s evident in her intensity. In the stillness and silence captured onstage. In the starkness and precision of the text. I’m just not yet sure what it is.

Roszell sits at a table with two cameras projecting both her image and the image of the surface of the table where she ever so slowly and deliberately removes items from jars (and in some cases a desk) and presents them to us, sometimes underscored by journal entries, sometimes personal anecdotes, sometimes nothing. The items themselves are curiosities: a feather, a diary from 1957, a ring, preserved moths. But for many of them, the text is disconnected from them. We seek meaning and correlation but are left unsure.
This piece was created at the University of Wales and so perhaps in a Welsh countryside context the show takes on other meanings. It feels like its resonance perhaps just doesn’t work within the context of this kind of festival. In a shorter form at the Rhubarb! Festival, it may have an entirely different vantage point. I wholeheartedly believe in artists attempting something onstage, but as an audience member I want to feel more a part of it. Perhaps due to projections, the size of the theatre space, or my own inability to connect the dots, I felt like an outsider.
The show is at its best when Roszell lands in family history. Her curiosity about her dead grandfather (and similarity to him) ground the piece. This is where the core of it might actually reside. Within the text there is some beautiful language. When talking about her grandmother’s inability to discuss her grandfather she offers “she severed those stories from her telling mouth”. Beautiful and haunting. Both descriptors I will inevitably use when I see a tightened version of this experiment.
In here are the makings of a fine show about loss and memory, they just need refining and synthesis.

The Small Ones is part of this year's SummerWorks Festival. For more information go here.

By Dave Deveau