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There They Carved a Space review at Camden People’s Theatre, London – ‘a vital document’

Emelia Weber and Claire Healy in There They Carved a Space at Camden People's Theatre, London Emilia Weber and Claire Healy in There They Carved a Space at Camden People's Theatre, London

Beginning with a recorded folk-song praising the Diggers, Protestant dissenters of the 17th century who fought for the right to farm on common land, Emilia Weber and Claire Healy’s fractured documentary quickly shifts to something far more urban and contemporary. A dérive through both time and space, it discusses the changing significance of common and public land, together with the shifting face of London’s social housing in the 20th century.

Presented as two intercutting, monotone monologues delivered by Weber and Healy against a montage of their own video recordings and snatches of archive footage, it’s self-consciously cool and flat, but there’s a hypnotic quality to the construction too. In its strongest passages, lambasting the political significance of the popular denigration of modernist architecture, the form and content slip into perfect sync. These are the facts, these are the images, these are the fragments collected by two wanderers, constructed in elegant, airy lines.

There are also frustrating sections which beg for further elaboration of a greater precision of thought. It’s unclear, for instance, why the financial cost of public sculpture the Stratford Shoal is worth invoking to prick the conscience, while Henry Moore’s Draped Reclining Woman, gifted to Tower Hamlets is simply a symbol of a kinder, more considerate age. But this is a pertinent and occasionally even beautiful piece of documentary theatre, with just enough of the personal and the lyric to temper its austere construction.

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A cool, occasionally beautiful and almost always vital documentary of the changing status of public space