The stranger on the threshold is a dramatic staple. From An Inspector Calls to The Caretaker, the arrival of an outsider is a common catalyst for conflict. In Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new audio play, this familiar dynamic is knocked askew, challenging what we think we know about hospitality, ownership and trespassing.
Self-declared “ordinary” person Vivian (Georgie Glen) has tried to escape it all. Living in a remote house in the countryside, she values her solitude. But as the play opens, a strange new presence in her home (Saskia Ashdown) warns her that she’s not as alone as she thought she was. None of us are.
The question of the play’s title – who are you? – keeps being deferred. Wertenbaker cannily exploits the audio medium, which yields few clues as to the appearance and identity of the mysterious intruder. Without giving too much away, it gradually becomes clear that Vivian’s visitor brings a perspective from the natural world, which humanity has pushed to the brink.
Under Amy Liptrott’s direction, this production for the Sound Stage season creates a rich aural collision between the human and the non-human. Paul Cargill’s sound design fills our ears with the sounds of a world we too often shut behind doors or drown out with our own chatter. Distant murmurings of animal noise gradually build to an urgent clamour of howls, hoots and whines.
Wertenbaker’s eco-parable invites us to think differently – to throw open both our doors and our minds. Yet it does so through a well-worn and decidedly human format: the debate. Arguments flow back and forth between Vivian and her enigmatic guest, putting one side and then the other. Nature versus culture. People versus planet. Although there are attempts to complicate and unsettle these binaries, the form of the play keeps them alive.
While it struggles to escape anthropocentrism, Who Are You? does pose tough and crucial questions about humanity’s place on the planet. As we approach Cop26 – widely seen as the last chance to avert climate catastrophe through international diplomacy – such questions deserve to be at the forefront.