On August 10th, 2018, Richard Russell, an airport worker in Seattle, used his clearance pass to gain access to a Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 — a 76-seater commercial plane — and flew it over the skies of the city. An untrained pilot, he performed loop-the-loops and barrel rolls, an aerial performance that observing pilots described as ‘awesome,’ before fatally crashing into the largely unpopulated Ketron island.

Credit: David Doyle

In We Were Promised Honey, theatre artist Sam Ward’s newest solo show, the story of Russel’s short-lived flight frames an hour-long exploration of storytelling and the choices we make for our futures. It’s a conceptually bold piece, with a clarity of vision that successfully articulates an awareness of our collective and inevitable destruction — both revelling in and upending it.

Wielding nothing but a handheld mic, Sam manoeuvres around the space with confidence and ease, unfolding his thesis with a perfectly-paced directness, and asking the audience at various points if they would like to continue. Giving us this choice to engage in the story, despite knowing that it won’t have ‘a happy ending,’ engages us in a highly active role, complemented by the neat trick of making us the protagonists of his story. This begins from the point at which the show ends: What will happen to us after the performance? The ensuing collective imagining takes us through a projected future in which individual audience members fall in love, help a stranger birth their child, and become the next messiah. This involvement builds, with individuals eventually getting up into the space to take on roles like a corporate manager in a high-flying future office, a monitor of a mini-fridge production facility, and a video-game-addicted dropout.

Credit: David Doyle

The non-traditional, participatory nature of this show reminded me of Nathan Ellis’ work.txt, with both disregarding the conventions of the audience/performer relationship and getting us up off our feet. However, in We Were Promised Honey, Sam’s central performance carries the show, meaning that a lot of the participation takes place in our imagination. The potential of being chosen primes us all to think about what we would do onstage, and we all become characters as both ourselves and as fictional versions of ourselves. This interventionist approach to the storytelling process raises many questions about the future, the past, where stories begin and end, where we should place ourselves in them, and how we can ultimately use them to wrest control to ourselves in an inherently chaotic and meaningless world.

Entropy is a concept we live with every day, but rarely do we let our awareness of it slip out from between the cracks of our unconscious. We amass it in doom-scrolling and catastrophic news articles — the news being that things are not going well, that we are going to die, that times are going to get much harder. But this story doesn’t play into these familiar tropes and expressions of despair. There’s certainly an acknowledgement that things are going to change. We are going to change. Things might get worse. They might get better — though perhaps not for all of us.

Credit: David Doyle

What will remain is stories. They will give us the ability to articulate where we are at this point. Where we might be. Where we have been. Transcending the bounds of time and space, moving between realised and potential lives, finding ourselves transported, elated, freed from the shackles of the inevitable. We have a choice. Not just over what we do, but of how we see it.

What Sam Ward has done here is break out of the expectations of a theatrical narrative, reassembling the possibility of the medium to include us, the audience. I left feeling put back together in a new way, with a revitalised sense of control over my life — like this was something within my grasp. The images and sense of things falling apart is communicated with a cosmic sense of scale, enlivened by a detailed and physically rousing soundtrack. It’s like an apocalyptic electronic music set fused with poetry and a burning consideration for humanity. 

We Were Promised Honey is a tight, dextrous, and incredibly well-rehearsed show, from Sam’s commanding performance to the perfectly integrated lighting and sound effects. There’s a strong sense of the technical control, but also the momentary craziness, wild abandon, and inevitable end of Richard Russel’s flight. Above all, what we get is an alternative way of looking at where we are, and it’s a joy to see the world from such an impossibly awesome height.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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