As independent theatre continues to claw its way back from the near-death it suffered at the hands of the COVID pandemic, there are a few theatre-makers leading the way towards full recovery. One of them is Andi Columbo.
The talented multi-hyphenate artist has produced a play in which she puts herself in the literal spotlight with her new creation, I WANT TO WRITE YOU A SUBMARINE. Made up of poetry, songs, one-liners, confessions, digressions, and heartache inducing moments of intimacy, SUBMARINE is a wonderful example of an artist using what tools are available to them (in this case a ukulele, a laptop, self-reflection and a real sense of how powerful words can be when employed correctly) to make work that not only showcases what they’re capable of, but what can be done when introspection and a dedication to professionalism are combined to make work that matters.
The production may seem slight, and the contents of the show could even be accused of being wispy, but flotsam this is not. By creating a play so hyper-personal and framing it with a tight script, beautiful songs and strikingly frank poetry, Columbo has made what seems on the surface to be solely a play about herself into something much more universal. Who hasn’t felt the sting of heartbreak and the loneliness that follows? Who hasn’t been so in love that the world and all its trivialities seem at once cruelly indifferent and absolutely magical? Who hasn’t longed?
Running at a tight 45 minutes, Columbo performs seven self-penned songs, as well as a poignant cover of the Hoagy Carmichael jazz standard “I Get Along Without Very Well”. In between the songs, she tells stories of wince-inducing hook-ups, mistakes in love, genuine affection and coming to terms with one’s foibles. At first glance these interludes seem conversational and off the cuff, but a keen ear will hear the razor-sharp employment of carefully constructed script. This is what makes SUBMARINE a stand-out: care has been taken in all aspects of its creation. Too often in independent theatre, the words fall by the wayside or are regarded as an impediment in the search for honesty; in Columbo’s play, words and how they are used, are the tools used to carve out an authentic depiction of the struggle to make sense of life and love.
I WANT TO WRITE YOU A SUBMARINE has ended its run at Kaapstad Toneelhuis, but we’re told this is merely a warm-up. Columbo aims to return to the stage with this engaging and accomplished play in future. There is a standard to which all theatre-makers should be held, and Columbo has distinguished herself mightily.