There are few better places in London to be than Holland Park on a balmy summer evening, but there are plenty of better things to do there than submit to David Leddy’s audio-theatre piece Susurrus.
Rigid definitions aren’t always helpful, of course, but even by the loosest of them, it’s a stretch to call this theatre at all. And, to be fair, the press release doesn’t exactly, opting instead to describe it as “part radio play, part avant-garde sonic art, part lesson in bird dissection and part stroll in the park”.
When you turn up at the starting point, you’re issued with a headphone and a map displaying a numbered route to guide you through the park on a dramatic journey, the MP3 player pre-set to dole out instalments at each marker.
It didn’t help that my player mistakenly, and confusingly, commenced with the final instalment rather than the first – rather ruining the eventual climax involving the death of one of the characters – which I didn’t realise until it became clear that my friend and I were listening to episodes of different lengths. Our technical troubles continued as both of our players skipped ahead several times and then hers stopped working altogether, by which point she’d lost interest anyway.
The tale itself, inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, revolves around a troubled opera singer and his family, told through the eyes of his now-adult children, a colleague and a researcher and interspersed with musical snatches of Benjamin Britten. It’s well voiced and reasonably engaging, but aside from a few references to other gardens and other benches, there’s nothing that grounds it in Holland Park or that really heightens the experience of listening to it in these surroundings.
Susurrus - which means a soft murmur, rustle or whisper, by the way – was previously presented at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden during the Fringe, and the accents of the characters at least do make it slightly more specific to that setting. It’s a shame, though, that it couldn’t have been tailored with more, indeed any, references to its new home. Given that Holland Park has its own resident opera venue, it would have been ideal, but the Susurrus doesn’t incorporate this at all, not even as a stop en route.
You’d do as well to simply stroll through Holland Park on your own, perhaps with a good audio book if you want the added murmuring.