Ross Sutherland believes that TV drama shapes us, training us how to act in our own lives. In this entertaining and novel solo show he makes a convincing case for that argument.
He tells the story of his life with a portable TV, a video player and a single VHS videotape. It’s a videotape he treasures – as much for the memories it provokes of times he shared as a small boy with his granddad, as for what’s on it. A hard drive crash in 2010 meant all the photos and music important to him were gone; the videotape he inherited became his sole port of call.
Anyone old enough to remember at least as far back as Sutherland (he’s 34) will nod with fond recognition at the phenomenon that was the videotape, and recall the magic of recording fave TV shows as Sutherland and his granddad did. Random excerpts from the 1980s play and replay on the TV, as well as on the wall behind Sutherland: Ghostbusters, The Prince of Bel Air, The Crystal Maze, a NatWest ad...
His granddad’s last words to him, “I think I’ve worked out what I’m supposed to be doing here” spur him on. Sadly his granddad died not recognising Sutherland any more; at news of his death Sutherland was in shock, but claims Hollywood had taught him “the posturing”, what to do. Sit down, have a cup of tea, call someone.
Sutherland is interested in our human tendency to find patterns, and make coincidences “mean” something. Curiously, that interest takes over, and he positively makes the old shows into his “entire” life history. Where some people turn to Tarot or I Ching with important questions they face, Sutherland goes back to the tape for answers. He has watched it over 300 times now. “One day I will see my life perfectly on that screen.” You have the sense he is determined.
Certainly it’s clever – an intriguing concept which works, and a novel method to illustrate the pattern-finding theory. Having quit his job at NatWest four years ago Sutherland is a working performance poet, and tells his story in a combination of intimate narrative and entertaining, punchy rap.
For all that his show has a long run, you feel like this is a one-off telling; descriptions of his depression and asthma attacks are poignant. As testament to how hooked I was, I felt a little cheated when I later chanced upon Sutherland doing a “live trailer” for his show and recognised every word, every gesture, every bow of the head.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that I don’t quite believe his protest that after all, he’s happy. His life isn’t Hollywood and it’s far from finished, so his show doesn’t need an artificially upbeat ending.