The Ballad of Paragon Station

Theatre is always at its most powerful when you feel truly transported into someone else’s reality. This is exactly what The Ballad of Paragon Station achieves through its profound story and captivating performance. Written and performed by Hester Arden Ullyart, this one-woman show combines drama and photography to guide us on four people’s sleepless journeys from night to dawn. While the rest of the city slumbers, we are privy to the trials and tribulations that are keeping them awake. The night-time atmosphere of secrecy and intrigue becomes so convincing that it is genuinely disconcerting to emerge after the final bow into the late afternoon. With gentle poignancy, this performance makes for a magical experience that you cannot tear yourself away from.

A beautiful exploration of human fragility

What sets The Ballad of Paragon Station high above the wealth of one-woman plays here at the festival is its stunning writing. Though this is a spoken word performance, its narration never feels heavy or over-burdening. Arden Ullyart uses language so richly that the whole performance is captivating to listen to. I was leaning forward in my seat to ensure I wouldn’t miss a single word. This is a truly powerful and poetic script that reaches to the depths of each character. The photographs accompanying the performance on the back wall, depicting stills of the characters at key moments of the plot, are an innovative idea that cleverly merges two artistic forms to create a fully-rounded persona on stage: we have their appearance from the art and their words from the theatre.

An outstanding script is not enough on its own, but Arden Ullyart’s performance is just as compelling. She moves seamlessly between character and narration to keep the audience always gripped. She makes full use of her intimate performance space by eyeing each audience member conspiratorially, as if we are in on a secret. Suspense, heartbreak, tears and joy are all included on stage within a single hour. She takes us on a wild ride that captures the spectrum of emotion.

The Ballad of Paragon Station is a beautiful exploration of human fragility. This play presents its characters at their most vulnerable: when their anxieties cannot be buried in the humdrum of day to day life and instead must haunt them alone at night. Arden Ullyart has created something atmospheric and intuitive that invites us into a hidden world. 

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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Performances

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The Blurb

Written and performed by Hester Arden Ullyart, in collaboration with photographer Jessica Mahaffey. What keeps you awake at night, Stacey Kay? It's the middle of the night and four people are still awake in a city classed as a shithole by most of a country that has never been there. One is escaping, one is returning and two used to be lovers. The Ballad of Paragon Station is a funny, intimate story of all life's everyday magic, grumble and rumour for a generation of millennials trying to find the everything in nothing much. Debut.

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