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


Persuasion

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Caroline Moroney, Samuel Edward-Cook and Cassie Layton in Persuasion. Credit Johan Persson

Royal Exchange, Manchester

By Jane Austen

Adapted by Jeff James with James Yeatman

Directed by Jeff James

Persuasion might just be close to Perfection. This modern take on a two hundred year old Jane Austen novel by Jeff James is a gloriously uplifting froth fest. In the beautiful old Royal Exchange building sits a perfectly placed modern theatre and inside it James amps up the volume on a brilliant Frank Ocean soundtrack and ditches the bonnets for bikinis and the breeches for speedos.

“Penelope, turn the music down! I can hardly hear myself think over your harpsichord!” The opening line sets the tone for this production. This is a sharply observed perceptive rom com which uses Austen’s analysis of constancy in love and marriage. Married Mary is shrewish and discontented,  true to the original and yet as easily at home in John Lewis or the Knutsford Aldi. Sir Walter is narcissistic and fighting his advancing years like a bare-chested Mick Jagger strutting round Cannes rather than taking the waters in Bath. The deliciously carefree Louisa and Henrietta are every naïve young girl out for a good time seduced by the idea of love rather than the reality.

Alex Lowde has created a stunning lightbox platform which scissors out to function as a a kind of fashion catwalk for a sports/luxe collection S/S2017 and an Essex nightclub. The high point being when the tide comes in and high spirits and wanton ways flood the stage in a stunning spectacle which probably has most of the audience contemplating joining the cast on stage.

The strong sense of camaraderie is apparent from early on. The cast sit in the auditorium merging into the audience and casually strip down and change costumes so it seems like  we have joined them in their dressing rooms. The result is spontaneous applause as Anne and Wentworth finally get it together.

The whole cast seem to be having a blast. Man mad Cassie Layton and Caroline Moroney  can sparkle and fizz with energy or sway on the dance floor like mannequin autobots.  Samuel Edward-Cook and Lara Rossi are convincing as the lovers hoping to reunite even as Anne struggles to “want to want again”. The whole production has great comic timing and uses Austen’s dry wit to great effect.

Love and Constancy win the day as a mature, reflective Anne who can also dance like a demon and flick irritants off the stage, gets the relationship she wants. Persuasion is all about the love and the importance of trusting ourselves in decisions of the heart. That is as relevant today as in Austen’s lifetime.

At The Royal Exchange until 24 June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROSE

HOME, Manchester

 

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Written by Martin Sherman

Directed by Richard Beecham

Performed by Janet Suzman

The curtain goes back to reveal a simple wooden bench on which a dimly lit Suzman sits. She informs us that she sitting Shiva. As she sits, we sit. As she speaks we listen. Stillness fills the main theatre space at HOME.  Suzman as Rose commands the stage alone for over 2 hours, and is mesmerizing

Rose is simply one voice and one story picked out and told from a history of displaced people all across the World and all through History. The potency of that one voice telling one story ensures that it feels impossible not to focus and engage. There are no distractions other than subtle touches of music and a beautifully simple  moodscape of  shifting colours as a backdrop.

The first half focuses on Roses early life with her family and her first marriage to the love of her life and the subsequent birth of her daughter Esther. The images of family life and lilac trees and smooth chested men is rich and evocative. As the story moves from  the ‘shtetls’ of Eastern Europe into Nazi occupied Warsaw the memories fragment as the horrors of the ghetto permeate her life.

The second act opens with the stage now filled with benches to sit Shiva. The result is haunting, so many benches for so many dead. The stark white simplicity is reminiscent of the rows of simple crosses marking the graves of  the war dead in so many cemeteries.

Rose is now a business woman, married with a son and speaking with the accent of her adopted country. She speaks of her life in America and the choices she makes about what she recalls and what she suppresses from past memories. Her son and grandchildren continue the theme of displacement and the battle to forge a new nations identity. Her journey from the ill fated Exodus ship and the bright hope of a homeland is tainted by later events in Israel and Palestine. “The milk was slightly sour, the honey a bit tart.”

This is a beautifully crafted script by Martin Sherman and is skilfully directed by Richard Beecham to ensure that Rose is vital and real. The play avoids the stereotypes of Jewish mothers and tells a story from 20th Century history without preaching.  The star of the show is of course Rose and rightly so, Janet Suzman is astounding as this warm yet brittle and wounded survivor. Her performance is subtle and understated but every look and movement is exact and illuminates Rose with depth and clarity.

History repeats itself and Rose has observed a century of the ebb and flow of peoples and their religions and cultures. It is timely that in the 21st Century we are revisiting this play as refugees flee their homes and seek uncertain welcomes and futures elsewhere.

At HOME until 10th June

 

Every Brilliant Thing

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THE EDGE THEATRE

A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Cast James Rowland
Writer Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director George Perrin

You are seven years old and your Dad tells you that your Mum has done a stupid thing. Actually your Mum is in hospital and has just tried to commit suicide. You feel guilty that you’re clearly not enough to make her want to stay alive. You’re seven years old and you need your Mum to want to stay alive. So you start to write a list of every brilliant thing which might just make her want to stay alive.
This a play with perfect pitch. It delivers on every level. What could be mawkish and heavy handed is instead life affirming and delightful. There is unbridled energy in this performance and absolute glee in each interaction but also moments of real affect where Rowland describes the reality of depression on relationships and family and the lasting impact on children.
This award winning play has toured America and Australia as well as Edinburgh Fringe and lots of small regional theatres here. It is a play that could easily run and run as it has a lot to say about life and due to its format every performance will be unique.
There is no big cast or eye catching set or clever lighting to hide behind. There is just a great script and soundtrack, with one actor on stage who is engaging with the audience well before the performance starts and whose impact lingers long after he has left the stage.
This is a uniquely engaging performance in that it exists only through the audience participating in an act of trust and taking on a range of roles on stage. Foreman gives out post it notes or annotated sketches or coffee stained scraps as the audience is first seated. As he calls out the numbers on the papers each participant becomes a part of the performance. Others are deftly engaged as actors voicing roles such as the veterinarian who euthanizes his first pet dog or the narrator’s father or his first love.
The success of each show relies on a willingness to participate that is elucidated by pure charm and warmth. From start to finish this ensures the attention of all involved as we wait for a cue for our part. The result is a theatre space full of energy and life. As the list grows so does the confidence of the participants as we move from the 7 year old child listing-

3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
To the teenager-
994 Hairdressers who listen to what you want.
To the adult in love-
1009 Dancing in public, fearlessly.
9995 Falling in love.
To the man who has known depression and loss-
999998 Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.
1000000 Listening to a record for the first time……
Adding to the list I write-
1000001 Watching Every Beautiful Thing on a Summer evening at The Edge Theatre.

TOURING

 

 

Schrödinger

RECKLESS SLEEPERS

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CONTACT MCR

In 1933 Erwin Schödinger won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to Quantum Mechanics. he theorised a box in which a cat exists as living and dead at the same time. In 1998 Reckless Sleepers built that box – and now over a decade later, they are climbing back inside.

Quantum Physics and Mathematics were not my thing at school, thankfully cats, truths, lies, love, Magritte and alcohol were. Experimenters/ Artists Reckless Sleepers reopen Schrödingers famous box and delve in seeking questions and answers. Time ebbs, flows and pulsates as do the objects and the performers. The whole performance flows circling theories and story threads like water eddying in a pool.

The black cubic set is like a mad Goths playground with endless hidden doors and portals. Performers flow in and out or are thrown up and down with the plasticity of rubber boned children. Actions are repeated with methodic rhythm or frenzied intensity as though in some kind of Obsessive compulsive ballet.

There are snowstorms observed and experienced with magical curiosity. Water is sprayed, splattered, guzzled as a sometimes  lifeforce and other times a weapon. Crisp green apples as Magritte painted bring colour, sustenance and scientific creativity. Chalk is scrawled over black walls and suits then rubbed out or washed away. White sheets adorn tables, mold masks for lovers, or become bungee cords or chalk wipes. Numbers represent contacts and change as the 5 performers make contacts with objects. It is entrancing and engaging at every point. Things are happening and can’t always be seen, the result creates a desire as the observer to become plastic and flow with the performance and miss nothing.

Throughout this clever and mesmerising piece of physical theatre runs a pure child energy that is the creative force of all experimentation. It is anarchic and challenging, poetic and balletic and fiecely clever. If my school had had a Schödingers Box and a visit from Restless Sleepers I suspect I would have happily engaged with Physics and Mathematics. “It may seem like we have done this for the first TIME” I’m hoping I haven’t just seen this for the last TIME.

UNTIL 25TH MAY

Good Grief

HOME

Written by Jack Rooke and his Nan 

Performed by Jack Rooke

Jack knows more about death and dying, grief and grieving than most people want to. He has lived through the loss  of his beloved dad when he was 15 and his delightful Gran who helped him develop this show has recently passed away.

This show is a walk through his experience. With a soft humorous voice and a wicked glint in his eyes those much loved family members are present in the room with us as certainly as they flow through his memories and his DNA.

Jack uses storytelling, family film footage and carbs to introduce the audience to death and bereavement. He uses humour to describe the journey through shock and disbelief via slices of  Soreen and custard creams and a multitude of lasagnes filled with Bechamel sauce and awkward pity.

He describes the benefits of a get out of class free card which allowed him to have a weep or a wank but most importantly gave him a badge of honour and acknowledgement of his loss.

This is a lovely piece full of charm and wimsy that feels very natural. There is banter with the audience but is never feels slick or polished. The connection he envokes is genuine but this is not about sharing his grief or fixing it. This is an intimate window into the world of loss and acceptance is an ongoing process. Jack is touring a show that has not “fixed”or “replaced” his losses. It is a means of affirming how shitty death is for those left behind but also how sweet life is when we fill it with laughter and compassion and carbs.

At HOME until 20th May then touring.

HEADS UP

HOME

Written and performed by Kieran Hurley

A desk, table top sound equipment, a candle in the darkness and a barefoot man in a suit. The rest is sound. A rich, melodic voice talking, talking, talking. Shifts of tempo, tales of random souls and the drip, drip, drip of impending doom. 

This 2016 Fringe Award winner is hypnotic storytelling but this is no bedtime story by candlelight, it is a ferocious and visceral assault. A tale of an apocalyptic event with a slow burning fuse that fizzes through four lives photoshoped from the media.

Mercy works in Futures and sees Armageddon coming, preaching a warning to others and seeming unhinged in her desperation. Ash is 13 and slut shamed in school, cringing in a toilet cubicle as her fragile teenage identity implodes. Abdullah is stoned and paranoid as he smiles and smiles pouring drinks in a  corporate coffee house. Leon is a coke fuelled pop star saving icebergs and bees in a fugue of media hype while his girlfriend gives birth alone.

These characters are fragmented elements of all of us. Their stories collide and connect and are reframed as the apocalypse shakes down our existence and our humanity. The sonic boom is deafening and seems to go on forever then bleeds into exquisite choral music. As Mercy repeats her mantra What we have is  now everything changes and we adapt as we always have.

Hurley is a gifted writer and a skilful storyteller. There is poetry is every gesture and anguished expression. This is a performance in which he wrings out every drop of self. The result may not be to everyones taste but at best it makes you wake up and really feel alive.
At Home until 20th May then touring.