The Belief Project review: What do we believe?

Paper Cranes, The Belief Project, Review, Culture, Laura Elliott, Kettle Mag
Written by Laura Elliott

Entering into Theatre Delicatessen’s Sheffield performance space in the old, disused Woolworths building, a light paints the word ‘welcome’ across the cement wall. Inside the intimate venue, delicate paper cranes hang from the ceiling adorned with fairy lights and cling resolutely to a washing line. A single performer sits on a chair and welcomes you into a small gathering, much like a child’s story time, and the small audience takes their seats.

Footprint Theatre is going to take you on a tale of belief. What is a belief? What do we believe? What do other people believe? And what belief led a young, dying girl in 1954, to fold 1,000 paper cranes from her hospital bed? All will be revealed.

Belief in all shapes and sizes

This project feels more like a work in progress than a wholly finished show, but it also feels like the start of a piece that’s quiet, thoughtful, and worthwhile. Footprint Theatre has been collecting beliefs from everywhere; they’ve spoken to friends, families, strangers, children in schools, and a number of other people besides, in an attempt to find out what we believe and what makes a belief a ‘belief’.

The show is performed with one actor/actress on stage, and the current cast of three alternate the shows and bring their own beliefs into the mix, making each performance subtly different from the others. These individual touches orbit around the tale of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb, Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

As her tale is told, the performer teaches the gathered audience how to fold a paper crane, slipping between the story, the origami lesson, and the reams of beliefs they’ve collected. The result is an unusual and thoughtful performance that’s part interactive, part joyful, part thoughtful, part bittersweet, and entirely engaging.

Sadako’s story is at once tragic and uplifting. As our own paper cranes are created, we learn of the Japanese myth that fuelled this little girl to fold more than a thousand of her own in hospital, in the belief that if she did so, she would be granted her one wish; to survive the leukaemia that had grown in her body, caused by her early exposure to the destructive radiation as a toddler.

Bittersweet Stories

Of course, Sadako was never granted her wish, but the manner of her death and her quiet belief that she could be saved by her paper cranes inspired a memorial fund and her own statue in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Sadako now stands for future generations, surrounded by her cranes, to remind the world of the need for peace.

The tale is a bittersweet and disturbing reminder of our capacity for destruction, as well as our capacity to believe in something. There’s always a risk that a story like this will become just a bit too depressing, but this show is anything but.

While contemplative and sombre at times, The Belief Project isn’t just concerned with high-minded beliefs. Oh no; some of the ones they’ve collected are joyful and ridiculous as well.

“I believe Captain America is the best superhero”

“I believe everyone should travel the world”

“I believe my teddies understand me”

“I believe dancing is amazing”

“I believe in the power of an excellent sandwich on a bad day”

Thanks to this, the sobering nature of their central tale never manages to overpower the piece, and what’s folded in alongside the introspection, is a great deal of joy and consideration that’s rare to find in such a young company.

Performance Points

It takes a strong performer to engage an audience on their own, especially in such an intimate setting and with such an unusual show format. Granted, I only saw one of the three perform, but Immie Davies’ one-woman storytelling was charming, engaging and very watchable, and I’ve no doubt that Isaac Whiting and Joe Bunce will also have delivered similar shows.

Overall the piece was fascinating, but as I said earlier, the Belief Project still feels like a work in progress. Some of the transitions between storytelling, belief reading, and origami making were slightly jarring, and there’s a sense that there’s more to be explored in this theme that the company’s only just beginning to tap into.

However, the project is set to run elsewhere over a period of a few months, and if this is their starting point, then I’ve no doubt that it will become even more encompassing, and begin to explore its themes more deeply.

There’s a lot of groundwork that’s already been done with these performances, and a lot more to come to that will, at this stage, only improve the show and make it more engaging. The Belief Project is an exciting venture that’s only just started to grow its wings, and when it does, I have a feeling that it will be an, even more, thoughtful and considered piece than the intriguing show that’s already been set in motion.

You can contribute to The Belief Project’s fundraising here.