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.

SCORCH


PRIME CUT PRODUCTIONS

By Stacey Gregg

CONTACT MCR

Happiness. Aching, constant, consuming. On there it’s more real than real life. I’m honest on there. I’m being honest. That’s important”

Out in the real world identity is often a fragile concept, a fluid construct that is subjective and individual to Self. The norms and legislation in Society requires objectivity. The two can make awkward bedfellows, and often produce confusion and misinterpretation especially when looking at gender identity.

The world of online gaming, avatars and messaging can be a haven for those who are confused or conflicted about their identity. Here anything is possible and anyone can be He, She, They or Ryan Gosling.

Amy McAllister is unobtrusively sat in the audience before she begins to snake in her seat as though shedding an unwanted or ill fitting skin or garment. Her movements are painful and beautiful to watch. She pulsates with energy and this begins to look like a interpretative dance performance. 

Then suddenly she moves to sit again in the group and starts to share. Like the confessional space of a therapy group we see an 8yr old girl who favours natty wsistcoats and an 11 yr old frustrated and horrified by burgeoning breasts. Then Kes emerges as a gender confused teenager experiencing online first love in all its bewildering intensity.

Performed in the round this is highly intimate and at times uncomfortably so. The staging is immersive as the audience become  the circle of trust Kes sits in at his LGBTIA support group but later that same circle feels like a threatening courtroom. The lighting in this piece is incredibly important informing when we look at each other and support the performer or when our faces blur and McAllister is alone and vulnerable.

The first half of this performance is funny and joyous as we engage with thie wee Norn Irish lad who embraces with an open heart and a hoodie to hide his girlish ponytail. The beautiful script by Stacey Gregg ensures a sense of understanding as Kes walks an increasingly tenuous line between what is known and what is left unsaid.

The later half quickly descends into the disturbing world of lawyers and courtrooms ill-equipped to deal with a changing society. Here we see the performance darken as a different confusion arises. Do the actions of a gender-confused young person require a lengthy prison sentence or a place on the sex offenders register? This play is based on real life cases such as that of Justine McNally.

SCORCH does not attempt to have all the answers but it raises many important issues. This is a worthy winner of multiple awards and is all the more remarkable emerging from Northern Ireland where only 5 years ago such a group as ours would this evening would have met in a secured room in Belfast’s Psychiatric Unit.

At Contact until 26 May