Walk into the SU theatre for a production of Giulia Fincato’s original drama Capital Letters and you are met with a stage dappled in blue light, two different scenes at either end: two chairs and a bookcase coupled with a large white screen at the rear. The juxtaposition between the domestic and technologically sterile will gradually become apparent as Fincato masterfully reveals the root of the technocratic revolution.
Ricocheting between now and the future, Capital Letters follows an ordinary family as they are governed by political forces alongside a different time in which characters Andrea (Thea Barnes) and Noah (Soren) are attempting to reconstruct the puzzle of the past. The protagonist Blu, in a Titas Andronicus-esque mutilation of hands and tongue (figuratively), cannot speak or write, the latter of which no one is allowed to, in this eerie future version of our world. Instead, Blu communicates by pointing a small flashlight to their head and tuning into their thoughts which are projected onto a large screen.
Capital Letters must have been an incredibly difficult show to pull off technically since Blu’s words are predominantly communicated through onscreen type (the design of which is beautifully apt). Much of the play’s themes around technology are encapsulated through the screens – the opening montage of protest footage fittingly broadcasts what is at stake for the family – which exacerbates the importance of human contact. Small effective touches such as the crackling noise chosen to signify the burning of books in a Fahrenheit 251 type of way and, after a modest set change, all emphasise the small ways in which dictatorships may take over. The seamless transitions in sound and set movement are a testament to the talent of the entire production team.
The ensemble cast was strong and especially skilled in giving the script room to breathe with appropriate pauses, allowing the heightened scenes to really work. The standout performers were Kitty Sharland as Blu and Natalia Leaper as Lila (Blu’s mother) the scenes between them are where the script really sparkled, and a connection was apparent.
Giulia Fincato is a talented playwright capable of putting her audience in the deep end with high-concept writing, and then incrementally pulling them out until the revelations are rewarding. I had seen her do this in Death of an Author and was even more thrilled by the skill with which Capital Letters was crafted.
With the government’s investment in the arts dwindling with every year and the strange new proposal from Rishi Sunak to make Maths a compulsory subject for students up to the age of 18, Capital Letters feels very politically in tune with the current climate as a warning fable for what may be to come. The play’s hearty intertextual relationships with music and literature counteract its pessimism about a possible future. Long passages from Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi may appear incongruous in a different play but not this one, in which words are a source of salvation. Allusions to George Orwell’s 1984 in neologisms such as “Now Speak” describing government-approved speech are implemented to emphasise the importance of language for communication.
Although the themes in Capital Letters are dark, the ending is a triumphant reminder of the vitality and immediacy of art. Due to the economic use of proxemics throughout, when the two worlds converge on the nostalgic mount of ‘Bunny Hill’, it’s a satisfying merging of all the clues the play has given us so far and a clever use of staging to portray distance and height.
An introspective and nuanced examination of childhood and memory, Capital Letters wonderfully depicts the troubles of our time. There is nothing better than the medium of theatre to express the importance of art as the substance that makes life worth living.