I’m not sure what I think of Common Ground, as a theatre critic. I know what I think as a person, but as a writer, I think I’ve been confounded by its untheatricality, its simplicity, its similarity to a workshop. I’m having to recalibrate my brain to think differently about theatre in response. This in itself is a statement, and this is why Common Ground works.
The pure lack of drama within the piece invites the audience in. There are no fireworks or special effects, just people telling their own stories, and ventriloquising the words of others. Without over-indulgent production values or dramatic conventions getting in the way of the story, the show becomes accessible to any viewer, an important feature seeing as the show is explicitly about connection and community. The show is almost revolutionary in the fact that it literally just feels like it’s facilitating a place to chat, to hear the voices of others. The audience are invited to contribute (although the extent to which this is convincing is questionable), and we all share in the comparisons of similarities and differences. We all participate in the creation of this anti-art, in its repetitions of the people that we shouldn’t ‘forget’ after the pandemic, of sharing the small things we’re looking forward to and by communally writing letters you’ll never send.
The show ranges across topics, but naturally, like a conversation with friends. It is a play with a great sense of place, both celebrating and criticising its Yorkshire-ness, and the concepts of identity. It dwells on the small ‘boring things’ that connect us, like how you make a cup of tea, as well as those great communal experiences like a concert. The final question, "you in?", might just be the lead up to the Q&A, but it also reflects the way in which this piece is structured. There’s a communality of ideas here as well as form, and it’s incredibly affecting and uplifting.
Common Ground uses verbatim in a new way, and a way we might come to increasingly see post-pandemic: stripping the form back to its basics, in a perfect recreation of a Zoom call. It creates a sense of community in its simple style and themes of home, family, place, and ABBA. Much like a call with friends, you’re left melancholy, uplifted, and with a smile on your face.