Director Sue Buckmaster
Choreographer Gregory Maqoma
Composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Great Northern Warehouse
Manchester International Festival 2021
A family theatre show in the midst of an ongoing pandemic is special for so many reasons. In a MIF programme that is for many alarmingly short on theatre and dance, there is no small pressure on Theatre-Rites to use their 25 years of experience to make something very special indeed. The focus of The Global Playground is all about the joy of unfettered play. It is all about exuberance, collaboration and celebration. A show for families can often appear off putting with the assumption it will be either saccharine or heavy handed or sadly both. However Director Sue Buckmaster and MIF have a proven flare for family programming that can appeal to all ages in ways that delight and inform. The Global Playground delivers on entertainment with a neat look into the world of creative film making.
This is a show within a show as it unfolds, it is clear that we are the audience watching the filming of a show for children’s television that reflects diversity in dance. It soon becomes clear that we are also witnessing the lovable flustered Sean Garratt as an inexperienced film director faced with mounting challenges as dancers and musicians drop out due to travel restrictions and other issues that neatly reflect the last year of a global pandemic. Creative solutions abound as Kennedy Junior Muntanga dances a duet on Zoom with Thulani Chauke who genuinely couldn’t travel to Britain as originally planned. Merlin Jones takes the reins playing all the live instruments when composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson is also unable to appear.
A circular stage has a flavour of the circus and certainly this is a performance filled with clowning and buffoonery but the staging also creates a feeling of safety for all in this new world of covid safety. This is a set filled with film equipment which is introduced and explained to the audience. Above, in front and behind there is always stuff to see. Images are projected on walls, a drum kit looks down on us, a talking camera is sometimes like a chatty ventriloquists’ dummy or becomes snake like and sinister as it darts a red light across the stage like a beady, disapproving eye. This is a fun way to learn about sound and lighting on a set.
The dance performances are uniformly excellent and varied. There are flavours of a range of styles including contemporary with hip hop dance offs and moments of clowning. The sheer exuberance and joy of movement is palpable and shines through in the facial expressions of all the performers particularly Annie Edwards and Jahmarley Bachelor. Puppetry and ventriloquism also feature and are seamlessly interwoven into the story by choreographer Gregory Maqoma.
The dancers increasingly take charge doing their own thing and left to play something new and beautiful emerges. The set is deconstructed and props and equipment are repurposed as lighting equipment become skirts and a wonky tripod covered in duct tape becomes the choreographer. There is an anarchic element yet also an underlying message that if we embrace the chaos we may create a new order that has its own intrinsic value.