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Love, Conditionally (Podcast)

Play Inside shines a spotlight on stories and voices that are often neglected with their new online podcast Love, Conditionally. Combining audio drama with guided actions, the plays transports and engulfs you in the raw emotion, allowing you to feel along with the narrator. Guided to mirror the actions of the narrator, this allows us to emotionally tether ourselves into the stories as we experience it in a real time. 

There are a series of plays, each under 20 minutes, and range from a large demographic. There are stories from the UK, Palestine and Egypt, along with Arabic versions as well to make these plays more accessible. For the purpose of this review, I chose two of the short plays:

1. Yousef - Egypt - Another World 

2. Salma - Palestine - Uneasy Listening

The plays are directed by Michelle Roche and Rosie Poebright (UK). The writers of the two plays that I had listened to remain anonymous but sound design is by Hana Seifelnasr, who does an excellent job at including sounds of the actions (water running, doors creaking) to make the podcast more lifelike. This project was managed by Nery Mounir (for Egypt) and Lama (for Palestine).

The former play was a blend of journeying into Yousef's traumatic and troubled past, whilst discussing the consequences of the present and trying to become stronger for the future. Baring themselves to the listeners, we have an unfiltered, vulnerable and truthful retelling of the past. Using only dialogue, each moment of reflection, observation and memory becomes precious as we cling to it, and allow it to sweep us away. Discussing the sexual assault by a family member and the resulting paranoia, and inability to foster trusting relatives, hopeful romantic relationships and finally loss and grief, the play does a splendid job at exploring these themes with a heartbreaking honesty. 

These themes are separated into individual segments through the use of guided actions. Examples include lying in a fetal position, attempting to feel safe or protect oneself whilst listening to the horrific act of SA, or checking your pulse and drinking water during a panic attack. The play comes to a close with a particularly heart wrenching reflection on grief, which feels like a slow release from the intensity of the rest of the podcast. Wishing to scream, to feel safe, to be free, to love, to be happy and just to exist, it's a moment that stands out, and the impact feels greater after physically experiencing a few of the emotions ourselves. 

However this particular story initially feels a bit rushed and abrupt, and whilst the dialogue is emotional yet we dont know enough about the character to connect. Perhaps due to the short length of the episode (15 minutes), the connecting threads of his experiences are lost, and it feels as though we are glimpsing at individual moments rather than following through. A lot of high tension and emotional moments are punctured through the guided movements, which are read in a cool voice, which contrasts the pain in the narrative. However, the episode still pushes through and achieves what it sets out to do, and remains a strong script. 

The latter episode is bold and brilliant, wherein vulnerability, honesty and humanity bleeds through the writing. Beginning as the calm before the storm, the play eases us into Salma's life before thrusting us into the larger picture of the war. Narrated by a naïve individual, the subtext and the overall dread seep into the dialogues and it's truly a tough listen as the emotion rolls over you. Using music, silence, song and prayer, the piece plays with the medium and its effective.

Whilst quite short (12 minutes), the play perfectly captures the conflicts of her internal and external reactions, thoughts, actions and facts, and it's hauntingly well done. Painting her world through words, we can imagine and feel the horrors happening, whilst being linked and even relating to Salma. The intelligence of the script is clear through her earnest and considerate pursuit of knowledge in learning the names of capital cities of the world, resulting in a galore of emotions flooding as we can fill in the inevitable finale. 

The writing is stellar, particularly the metaphor about embroidery in the candlelight. The play has elements and echoes of Anne Frank's Diary. The guided actions are quite minimal and are cleverly linked into Salma's story, and it feels natural to be included. 

Play Inside's Love, Conditionally is a strong step in a new wave of immersive theatre and demands the attention and engagement that these stories and voices deserves. All episodes are available on Spotify here.


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