Growing up in the 1980’s I remember the arrival and subsequent demise of much of the ‘must have’ technology that tantalised us all back then. So, I hotly anticipated FaxFiction, a performance of new short stories by six writers, incorporating now defunct technology.
I remember when personal cassette players (The Walkman) had no rewind button. Rewinding a favourite song meant employing a pencil and spinning the cassette. Our family was on the losing side of the battle between Betamax and VHS; and most significantly I remember wishing my parents would upgrade our balloon shaped dial-driven home phone with the slick angular stream-lined ‘button press’ ones we saw on US TV.
FaxFiction, developed by Manchester-based writer David Gaffney for the Refract:19 festival, is the first ‘live literature’ happening in the festival’s three-year history. It is performed upstairs in The Chambers at Waterside Arts in what feels like a school assembly hall. The initial four writers are seated as we find our seats. Next to them are side tables littered with analogue radios, projectors and an answer machine. The event starts with the audio of finely-clipped, English accents extolling the virtues of sound, while this plays out, reverb is added and a turn-table is used slow proceedings down. Samples of, classical then jazz music are phased-in – as we wonder where this is going.
Then the musical introduction ends and the stories begin. Some writers choose to stand whilst others remain seated to read their stories. The first section starts off slowly: Sarah-Clare Conlon, David Gaffney and Valerie O’Riordan regale us with snippets into their worlds of shipping forecasts; moving home and Head Office store recalibration. Sarah-Clare Conlon employs an analogue radio and regularly vents her disappointment at not being warned ‘about the gannets’. David Gaffney injects a light sprinkle of humour to his tale as he discusses the possibilities of parallel universes, while using the overhead projector to post pixilated prompts overhead. Valerie O’Riordan relies on an answer machine, aged and barely functioning, to trace Barry’s life – all I remember about this story is the swearing, which garnered some laughter from the audience.
After the interval the pace of the remaining stories ramps up. Artefact by Nicholas Royle is recognisable as it’s the image used to promote FaxFiction. Nicholas provides us with a further six stories accompanied by, in his words, ‘vaguely related video’ (picture a TV and video combo 14” and silver) – Nicholas’ honesty is refreshing. With each vignette we watch painfully as he presses eject, covers the cassette and inserts a new one. Maybe this is the point. In the old days we didn’t ‘stream’ our films. Making copies and showing films was a manual, noisy and timely affair.
Stand-outs of the evening are Rosie Garland and Fat Roland. Both stand commandingly as they perform. Rosie wears a waist-coat and plays a man. We watch as ‘he’ (as he believes) falls in love at a party. He knows it’s love because the object of his affection has ‘made’ him – a mix tape. As we watch his love develop into euphoria, Rosie holds placards showing Belinda Carlisle lyrics as music plays in background. The cassette and the tape deck capturing the moments in our youth when love meant so much more.
Fat Roland’s performance feels like a mix between Johnny Vegas and Charlie Brooker’s Bandersnatch. His comedic delivery is so infectious it musters laughter with a simple look. His story centres on a ‘coder’ being offered the chance to become a computer game designer – an unpaid opportunity that ‘will be excellent exposure’. The ark of the story has several routes and the audience decide the direction – thereby keeping us on our toes.
These final two stories lift the evening but overall, as someone who has strong memories of these changes, I feel the evening misses a real chance to transport us back to an age where the analogue device was king and truly centre stage.★ ★ ★
FaxFiction was at Waterside Arts on 27 July 2019 as part of Refract:19.