With many theatres across the globe once again seeing productions shut down and doors closing for who knows how long, existent streams of digital storytelling are a good fallback for many theatre companies. And in their third audio drama since the Theatre for the Ears project began, Sound the Alarm delivers something that is equal parts whimsical and harrowing with Lost Soul Animal Rescue: an audio experience that casts the listener as a newly hired ranger in a strange world plagued by something known simply as the darkness.
As per their namesake, each of Sound the Alarm’s projects has related to a societal “alarm” that the company sounds in an endeavour to spread awareness. Previous productions Starman and The Eternal Sailor were tied to “mental health and social alienation” and “conservation of our waterways and the fragility of democracy” respectively. And with “environmental and wildlife conservation” the key point of Lost Soul Animal Rescue, we are privy to comforting characterizations of woodland creatures as well as harsh realities faced by the animals most of us give little true thought to.
Written by Gary Mok and directed by Karen Lam, Lost Soul Animal Rescue’s strength certainly relies on how quickly and evocatively the world is established. Mok has made a setting that is abundantly familiar in the universality of natural environments but layered it with such perfect amounts of the surreal. The presence of this apocalyptic event—the darkness—that destroyed all electric light, which in turn seems to be powerfully affecting the creatures of nature, who we also hear chattering and bantering alongside us throughout the journey. Mok’s inspiration comes from traditional Chinese ghost stories, and the play is a brilliant exploration of this history. This coupled with Lam’s careful hand in guiding the subtle nuances of this experience and how each narrative element emerges makes for a truly gripping seventeen minutes.
Of course, there are no narrative experiences without voices, and the acting work is perfectly executed for this concept. Kenneth Tynan and Ingrid Nilson play the roles of Crow and Bear, the most present voices throughout, and they have characterized both a proud and assertive avian and worried and caring ursine wanderer in the most captivating manners. It’s through their performances that emotional twists towards the end of the experience truly land and resonate. Elfina Luk serves as a solid and calm counterpoint to these two as Dawn, a fellow ranger that gently guides the listener and crafts the narrative landscape in her grounded delivery. Aleksander Zecevic’s sound design for the piece brings all of these aspects together in a tight but spacious sonic world, with brilliant moments of deep keys and what sounds like a shamisen to draw the listener in and play against the kind voices present. Altogether, Lost Soul Animal Rescue may be the most effective listening experience of Theatre for the Ears.
Lost Soul Animal Rescue is billed as “a spiritual adventure”, and both in the literal narrative and the figurative experience, it certainly delivers. Sound the Alarm states this episode is for young audiences, and while it certainly is an accessible and kind way to explore the normalization of death and environmental issues, this is a show that audiences of any age will be engrossed by. A masterclass in just how poignant succinct audio dramas can be, Lost Soul Animal Rescue will both fill your heart throughout the listen and leave an animal-shaped absence when it’s over.