We Are Ian

In Bed With My Brother

HOME 

Ian is real, so real it turns out he is sat in the audience tonight. For the show he remains a voice pulsating as a bare lightbulb, while he reminisces  about the Manchester rave scene of the Eighties. Three young women crowd around the bulb listening to his Mancunion words of wisdom like he is a Messiah and they are his disciples of dance. Ian says, “Its 2017, we got fuck all. Let’s have a party. Party like it’s 1989.”

The show is a blend of thumping music, smoke machines and frenzied dancing to club classics like Hallelujah – The Happy Mondays.  There is projection screen with dance instructions, lyrics and footage of political speeches and events from the last 30 years. The performers do lots of lip syncing and are incredibly facially expressive yet barely speak. The gurning and munching and spitting of so many biscuits is bizarrely completely engaging. 

This is a mainly young audience who like IBWMB were not even born when Ian was raving, getting wankered and feeling the love on brown biscuits. Quick learners they follow Ian’s journey and it’s a fun trip to take with neon instructions for Hot Potato/Cold Spaghetti. Fun til the politics kick in and images of Thatcher and May appear in black, white and grey to the sound of Dominator by Human Resource. They are interspersed with footage of the old Hulme being demolished and Anti-Austerity marches etc. This is a timely history lesson about the unifying power of music and dance and its impact on civil unrest.

Dora, Nora and Kat (IBWMB) repulse and beguile in equal measure but by the end of the show I might just be a little in love with all three, biscuits crumbs included. Their capacity to physically engage with the audience is impressive as by the end of the performance they generate a love in the space that their mate Ian would approve off. They even manage to do it without illegal brown biscuits!!
We Are Ian is a masterclass in clubbing and a political call to wake up and make change happen. The end of the performance is pure exuberance and the scenes on stage may be my best ever memory of being in a performance.

Until October 14.

PALMYRA

HOME ORBIT2017

Written and Performed by Bernard Lasca and Nasi Voutsas

Bert and Nasi performed their 2016 show Eurohouse about an hour ago so it feels like I already know these two charming pals or clowns or maybe I’m just beginning to have a sense of what they could be capable off. 

The stage is set as simply as before with two chairs set far apart. What enfolds is on a larger scale than EUROHOUSE and adds a ladder, boards on wheels and china plates, in fact boxes and boxes of broken china plates. Oh and there is a hammer too.

Hauntingly beautiful music inspires a dance where Bert and Nasi literally glide to the music. There is scuffling, destruction and bargaining. This is bigger than the hopeful formation of the European Union and its subsequent splintering as seen in EUROHOUSE. Instead  Palmyra is a painful look at the making and breaking of an ancient civilisation. The piece looks at how complicit we all are in the preservation or devastation of a community, a society or a culture. 

Bert and Nasi flit in and out of civility, acts of  intimidation and literally trying to brush the ugliness and damage out of sight. What started out in EUROHOUSE as disturbingly dark clowning is rapidly becoming more violent and unpredictable in this piece. When one of them threatens the other with a hammer it is then offered to an audience member for safe keeping. Choices become central. Who do you choose to entrust it with? I was contemplated and duly rejected. The keeper of the hammer is faced with what to do next or who to give it back to. 

These two are lovely guys or they might just be Tom & Jerry in human form. Their work together is exciting and provocative creating much needed dialogue about the world we live in.

Palmyra will never be glued back together like a broken plate, nor can those lost lives be revived. Yet we can still react and respond. We can defy expectation and we can try to be better. Perhaps there is still hope for us all if we can still hand some stranger a hammer and anticipate empathy and goodwill rather than large scale carnage.

EUROHOUSE

HOME, ORBIT2017

Created and performed by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas

Co-produced by FellSwoop Theatre

From the moment they step on stage it is clear that Bert is a just a little bigger, more confident and sophisticated in every way  than the delightfully sweet Nasi. The audience is swiftly engaged in greeting them and each other, before we all hold hands. The govial assumption being that this will be good for all of us. Tellingly I happily hold hands with the lovely Nasi but soon my arm starts to ache held up at an unfamiliar angle. He smiles. I smile. I show no sign of discomfort. It is a lovely concept that is ultimately unsustainable. 

This is EUROHOUSE. The clowning, running and dancing together is joyous and mainly harmonious until a darker edge starts to appear. Competitive elements in our personal and national psyches start to infilitrate the piece. Run fast, yes really fast but not too fast- never go faster than me and I will reward you.

Bert happily shares his sweets with Nasi encouraging and delighting in greedy pleasure. Later almost menacing he asks where the sweets are and clearly wishes them returned. It starts to feel claustrophobic in the space as Nasi has less and less options. There remains the bare vestiges of civility while food is literally taken from his mouth and the clothes from his back. The bonhomie of this functional friendship is cracking and Nasi starts to assert his individuality.

The show had opened with Bert confiding  that he will be controlling the sound and lighting for the evening  as if to give the nice staff at HOME a break. It is now apparent that the agenda here is control not support.  

This is cleverly illustrated by the music choices played ad finitum by Bert who insists on a cloying diet of Sardou’s classic Comme d’habitude (My Way) and Kraftwerks Europe Endless. As an audience we are invited to also choose a song, as is Nasi, though neither get played by the charming Bert. When Nasi defiantly ramps up the volume on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way I want to sing along- something I never do! It is a momentary small victory but it feels so good.

The spirit of EUROHOUSE is in sharing and playing and growing just like in the playground when we start to make the friends or enemies we must share a classroom with for the rest of our education. EUROHOUSE brings together performers from France and Greece who met in Scotland. They were part of two different companies FellSwoop and ANTLER. This performance is a bittersweet warning for us all in the aftermath of Brexit. We all need support and friendship but at what cost? 

THE WEDDING

HOME


Gecko opened their tour of The Wedding at HOME and the space has been buzzing all week. Last night was no exception and Gecko delivered a frenetic performance which was high on energy and buzzing with ideas and concepts.

The performance opens in darkness and noise starts to whoop behind and above the heads of the audience and moves swiftly round the theatre. Clever use of sound creates a vivid sense of what is about to happen as a performer bursts out of a chute in his underwear into a pile of teddies. Picking one up he rather reluctantly exchanges it for a wedding dress. It evokes the end of childhood freedoms and the donning of adult constraints. This exchange is officiated over by a stern woman in business dress clutching a clipboard. In this way the stage is set for Creator Amit Lahav to realise his “dystopian world in which everyone of us is a bride, wedded to society.”

The show is a blend of set dance pieces, physical theatre, circus performance and puppetry. There is always a lot happening on stage whether it is inferred from one immigrants face appearing from a suitcase to the exuberance of a Jewish wedding party. There is frequent shifts of musical styles, languages and cultures. We are all wedded to whatever society or culture or religion we are born into. The rupture of divorce from lover, job, culture or community is usually brutal whether we choose it or it is imposed upon us.

Blanked out bureaucratic faces look down from a height at office workers suffocating in endless stale routines, and often the dance reflects the jerking spasms of marionettes whirring into submission. At another point veils are torn away and we simply see another human being hiding his ordinariness behind giants stilts- no bigger or greater than anyone else on stage.

This is a piece that will probably continue to change and develop. It feels chocoblock with ideas like children spilling out of a play chute pumped full of E numbers. There is too much to take in to fully appreciate everything on stage. 

The end piece is triumphant as everyone comes together in a marriage of love rather than a wedding to state. The singing, clapping and stomping fill the theatre til it is booming with life. Home is where the heart is and last night Gecko truly put their hearts into the core of HOME.

Peter McMaster:27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

CONTACT THEATRE

Created by: Peter McMaster

Performed by: Peter McMaster and Nick Anderson

We enter through the curtains unto the main stage as though we are entering a large black confessional box. We are greeted by two men in Skeleton unitards. Is this the afterlife? Is this where all the dead 27 year olds artistes gather on a Tuesday night?

Peter McMaster explores the vulnerabilities around masculinity and the choices we may make about how fast and furious we drive toward 27 and what lies beyond. What unfolds is brutally visceral and beautifully tender.

The scene is set and as these two men hold hands they evoke a powerful image of tenderness and trust. It reminded me of my son at 3 years old clutching his best friends hand as they jumped off a wall together rolling and tustling in the warm Greek sand. There is much rolling and tustling on the stage too. Bodies slam into each other with a raw intensity that blends aggression, curiosity, lust and love. Yellow tape marks out the space like a sporting event and it does indeed feel like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in Women In Love.

The intimacy of the performance revs up a notch as the two performers start to disrobe requesting assistance from the audience.  This could go very wrong but the vibe of warmth and trust in the space allows it to be natural and unforced. As we assist it is playful and charming. The naked male body becomes unthreatening and is simply the casing for the two lifeforces on stage. 

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Ash is frequently shaken across the stage to remind us of the impermanence of life at 27 or any age. At times the ceremony feels like a hedonistic take on Ash Wednesday. As they roll and throw and support each other round the space, sweat and ash clad their bodies. The fresh, pink flesh becomes deathly grey and dulled. The dirt on the outside echoes the darkness on the inside that they apologise for, unrolling scrolls of apologies that we help them read out. The dirt on the outside echoes the shame on the inside but as a celebration of life experience, and living through your excesses and your mistakes.

The musical backdrop is straight from the back catalogue of the 27 Club – Nirvana, Amy Whitehouse, Jimi Hendrix. The impact of the music highlighting the story combined with the power and grace of McMaster and Anderson ensures a truly memorable experience. 

I left 27 feeling incredibly glad to be alive in that space watching that show on that summer evening. I was 27 when my Father died and for a while I just wanted to be with him. To be just ashes. A performance like 27 is a celebration of choosing life. I would see it again in a heartbeat.

What If I Told You?

Written and Performed by PAULINE MAYERS

Directed by CHRIS  GOODE 

The Studio, The Royal Exchange 

Pauline Mayers is a Rambert Ballet trained dancer, a choreographer, a writer and a theatre maker. She is a Hackney girl who has travelled the World as a dancer. She is a women of a certain age who has lived through significant  physical injuries and the emotional pain of depression.  She is a performer and an experimenter and an explorer. She is a black woman who has had a mixed response from the dance world about having a black body  to channel ballet through. More recently she has also experienced the closed doors that often greet an older dancer.

Talking to her in interview recently and watching her perform this  evening there is an undoubted warmth and engagement with others that is striking. As she opens the show her gaze attempts to connect with each member of the audience with a white hot intensity. This will draw in many audience members but for some may prove uncomfortable to fully engage with.

What If I Told You? uses theatre, movement and dance to explore prejudice and the conscious and unconscious assumption around skin colour. The piece weaves elements of her personal history and dance experience with the story of Dr J.Marion Sims often referred to as the father of modern Gynaecology. 

Dr Sims practised medicine in the nineteenth century and made major discoveries in the field of Gynaecology. His work was and remains highly controversial as he used black slave women as his subjects and refused to use anaesthetic deeming them less able to feel pain than white women.

The piece uses audience interaction and participation throughout. It is most powerful as we recreate a montage of a painting of Sims with Anarcha (a patient he experimented on many times), and two other white doctors observing while two tramatised black women peek through a curtain to see what awaits them. This is the impact of the piece that has stayed with me. Imagining that Anarcha might have been Pauline and seeing a lovely young black woman I know who could have been waiting her turn. Sims and another doctor were portrayed by white middle class men I also knew. It was deeply unsettling to imagine whose shoes we might walk in, in another place or time. 

There are some very rich moments to observe and there are some lovely interactions and connections as the audience participate in the movement of the piece. There is however a frustration that in weaving these elements together so much there is a risk that the piece loses some of its impact. An hour limits some of the storytelling when we also are participants. Pauline is so engaging I wanted more of her and less of me!!

Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. Its the audience thinking and speaking and reflecting together. Its a radical act of self care and empowerment. 
The Koan completes the second half of the show and is led by poet Khadijah Ibrahiim. Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. This is an important part of the piece as it is an exploration of subjective experience and a continuation of sharing what is “sameness” as opposed to “otherness”. 

The genuine hope in What If I Told You? is that each of us leaves the space with a keener and more empathic perspective on our neighbours. 

“There are periods of history where skin colour is used as a means to separate and disconnect us. I really feel what hurts you, hurts me. We are all human beings. There is only one race.”
This is a very personal piece. Pauline says it is an invitation to walk in her shoes for an hour. As with any subjective experience this will be more potent for some than for others. This is undoubtedly painful and chilling at times however it is also celebratory. Having stubbornly fought to be recognised as a black dancer and struggled with the loss of that career this show is also a homecoming. Theatre has welcomed her as a performer and story teller and her joy and appreciation is evident in this piece.

SHOWING 19/20 JUNE


BEARS


Image by Chris Payne

 

A Powder Keg and Royal Exchange Co-Production

Royal Exchange Studio

The stage looks like a rundown bear pen in a post- apocalyptic zoo. Despite the welcome mat this is clearly no cosy Bear home that Goldilocks has chanced upon. The Bears are styled in the fashion of Mad Max meets well worn patched up teddy bears. They are both bizarre and delightful as they set their dinner table to eat salt and peppered KitKat with knives and forks. These are civilised bears adopting human behaviours in a no longer civilised world.

We want people to see a piece that is about climate change without it preaching to them or without it fearmongering to the point where people just turn away from it. I think that is one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t focus on climate change as one of the overriding problems of the world.
Powder Keg won the 2016 Hodgkiss Award to develop this piece about climate change and conservation. It is not remotely preachy –  especially as the bears do not speak any words. It is however a humorous and at times enchanting look at the impact of consumerist waste. We may smile as the bears playfully try out a variety of aerosol deodorants then casually throw them away. We might be amused as they scramble through boxes of rubbish bearing high street brands like Cafe Nero or Starbucks. The message is however very clear. We have choked the planet with waste to the point where we have been extinguished and now the last animals left know nothing other than to emulate their destroyers.

The physicality and movement of the performers is deft, and effective in evoking the bears in their habitat. The cast have created 3 very watchable bears however the pacing needs some work as the middle 20 minutes flounders needing further dramatic development. The last section picks up pace and with a clever use of lighting and more of an already good soundscape it develops to a striking conclusion.

There are some beautiful moments as the bears play and scavenge and squabble. The most striking moment is perhaps the magical use of fairy lights. Ultimately so poignant and heartrending as they become like barbed wire enveloping  the tragic, bewildered animal.

The use of brightness and darkness works effectively to portray the last gasps of our technological world. The closing scene of the bears downsizing their home bangs home a powerful message about the shrinking icecaps. These bears are the natural descendants of those earlier cuddly eco creatures The Wombles. Sadly 40 years on and we seem to still need reminding that our planet remains in crisis.