What If I Told You, Royal Exchange

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse website

What If I Told You by Pauline Mayers

Royal Exchange, Manchester [19.06.17]

Enter the empty space. Leave your belongings beside the wall – you will not be needing them. Form a circle. There’s something quite wholesome about it. And your evening has begun.

Pauline Mayers’ What If I Told You (WIITY) is an exploration of life as a black woman in the performance world and beyond, delivered through storytelling, movement and tableux. This immersive experience places the audience within Pauline’s story but also allows us to revisit our own life experiences. This is a work that focuses on each of us being present, a necessary component of having access to the many truths of the piece.

Pauline invites us to play, embrace one another, see each other and hear her truth. WIITY is a historical playground that illustrates the bullying and abusing of black women’s bodies through time. We are exposed to the harsh truths of experiments conducted on black women by Dr J. Marion Sims in the name of gynaecology and told the names of three of the black women he experimented on: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. This alongside the flooding of ‘Black Lives Matter’ chanting, highlights the true war that has been and still is upon black bodies in the Western world. Pauline invites us into a space that contains black pain but she does not turn this into a spectacle. She acknowledges these experiences with a truthfulness and encourages us to reflect on how and why these events are occurring.

These narratives are weaved into Pauline’s personal experiences. She tells us of her journey from childhood to girlhood to adulthood. When she describes her audition for the Rambert School, she talks of how she has the shortest legs of all of the girls in the room. And for a moment, this brings up a memory I have from modelling. I remember being stood in a room with nine other girls who’s legs basically went up to my shoulders. And then I remember, the dodgy comments made about my thighs, nose and lips.

Back in the room and I feel even more connected to Pauline. This is likely in part due to the conversation we had over the phone where we discussed the way in which black women’s bodies are othered in theatre and the wider world. But it is also in part due to Pauline having the incredible ability to blur the edges between the theatrical play space she has created and the world outside of the studio.

Listening to Pauline’s journey through the arts world has given me hope. Her story is one that young black women should experience. It is unfortunately not often that you find a black woman in a space telling her story, talking about the challenges of her journey and absolutely smashing it. This is exactly what we need more of.

This piece ends with the audience being present and moving across the space and engaging with each other via a look or an embrace. At this point, I will admit I became quite disengaged. For me, physical contact is something to only be shared with those I am close to. I initially felt unsettled watching people hug each other and spent the next day questioning why that was. I do not have a conclusion yet but, I know this was a unique moment in which people were able to just be, together.

Verdict: What If I Told You is wonderful piece of storytelling that allows us to step into Pauline’s shoes and those of black women in history. Through measured physicality and emotive and engaging storytelling, we are able to truly be present with Pauline and explore our own narratives alongside hers. Go see it at Edinburgh Fringe this summer!

 

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Interview: Pauline Mayers on…

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse Website

It’s Monday morning.

This time last week, I had a conversation with Pauline Mayers about her currently touring show What If I Told You, perceptions of black women’s bodies in arts spaces and the wider world and, what it’s like being a person of colour in a white dominated industry.

Pauline on… art and defining herself as an artist

I define art as a means of being able to see the world in a different way, to explore the world through a different door, a different approach to life, different places and different times.

Pauline highlighted how art provides the space for you to express yourself in a way that you cannot in other spheres. It creates more avenues and connections, with the self and the wider world.

Regarding defining oneself as an artist, Pauline does not place herself in a box. She is a lover of reading, research, finding things out; she loves to evolve. Pauline describes herself as a risk taker, agent provocateur and artistic revolutionist.

 

Pauline on…working as a black woman in theatre and dance

Pauline has danced for many years all over the world  – she always wanted to express herself. She described the ongoing commentary on her black body and stressed what appears to be the obvious in that, we all have bodies. Change needs to come surrounding perceptions of black bodies in space but we are not yet at that point. The same goes for listening to black narratives, Pauline spoke of the disbelief in her experiences that occurs within theatre spaces and how audiences doubt her truth because it is not within their repetoire of experiences. Pauline owns her story when she shares it in a performance space because it is her truth. It is unfortunate that POC do not get to own performance spaces often.

She shared her refusal to perform for Black History Month and her disappointment at the last minute nature of programming for this month and Black theatre seasons.

We also touched the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in the theatre, especially as it is such a white dominated space and that a change needs to come. Pauline mentioned her participation in Eclipse’s SLATE Project. She described how the focus on process was something she had not experienced in a long time and how such experiences are rarely available for artists of colour.

Pauline on… the experience of POC in theatre and beyond

POC are rarely listened to, when discussing their experiences there is always a caveat of ‘oh yes, but…’ and never a moment of ‘I hear you’. Pauline who has trained as a counselor highlights that POC are less likely to participate in Talking Therapies and that comes from not being able to speak their truth and always being challenged. Their psychological injuries are sidelined.

Pauline on…POC as emerging artists 

Pauline described an experience she had when presenting a piece of work and an onlooker expressed surprise that her piece was so well rounded. Having huge amounts of experience, after 30 years in the business it should look professional, Pauline exclaims.

POC are brilliant at doing many things at the same time. However, POC are too frequently boxed off as emerging artists, which creates two problems: a stagnation of progression and POC all competing with each other for a platform. Why are we all fighting for one space? Why are we having to take someone out in order to have artistic space?

Whilst opportunities are few and far between, we then face the battle of longevity and siustainability. Pauline states that theatres need to be talking to artists and finding out what they wantUnemployment is a huge issue for artists of colour – where are the sustained work opportunities?

Pauline on…What If I Told You and what’s next

What If I Told You is a calling card,  a reminder that she cannot give up on this artist thing. It’s a part of her DNA. Within this she highlights the importance of accepting the lows but focusing into the work and how this allows you to settle into your calling. She believes it is essential that we spend more time with ourselves and reflect on what it is to be human. By doing such reflections, she wonders if the world would be less divided.

She intends to continue creating work and building the Mayers Ensemble. Alongside this, she would like to continue working collaboratively and venture into directing.

 

What If I Told You is on at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday 20th June and then moves to Edinburgh Fringe, performing between 11-26th August.

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Review: Jetlag, The Arts Centre

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Image: Thomas Barlatier, Tristan Galand and Yves Kerstius

Jetlag by Compagnie Chaliwaté

The Arts Centre, Liverpool [27.05.17]

Three passengers to be, waiting in the departures lounge. One hyper-synchronised couple. One lone man. A seat giving up on its join and tipping said man onto the floor. An awkward yet valiant attempt to fix said seat back on to the others. A decision to re-attach seat back to front. A need to be a sheep and mirror the seated couple. And so, we begin.

Jetlag is an almost language-free, physical and visual exploration of airport etiquette, loneliness, missing mothers and the dreaded Third Wheel syndrome. Through a blend of circus, gesture and dance theatre, Chaliwaté an unusual yet honest exploration of what it means to be alone and to be displaced from the world around you. We are invited to be a fly on the wall and observe a man who is lost and searching for some sort of affection but, most importantly, validation. It is the moments of silence and stillness within this piece that really make this piece relateable. We are reminded of times in our own lives when we have felt completely alone despite being in the presence of others. And there is something quite cathartic about having this time to reflect on this state both as an individual and collectively as an audience.

Jetlag is a very humorous piece of theatre that offers its audience tableaux and moments that would easily put Mr Bean to shame. Gags are well timed and delivered playfully, often using changes of lighting and circus performance to provide the audience with a mish-mashed palette of experiences that left many of the audience laughing aloud. Chaliwaté successfully delivered an array of quintessentially “British problems” with an original twist highlighting that awkwardly asking people to stand up whilst you pass them and struggling to establish use of your arm rest are in fact just general awkward people problems. And to top this off, whilst the couple are sleeping on the flight and the man tries to climb over them, they resemble Grant Wood’s American Gothic being exposed to the joys of flying by Ryan Air. Absolute comedy gold!

The attention to detail with the physicality of this piece makes it an engaging and exciting spectacle for its audience. Each gesture is nuanced and delivered with intent and in a piece that doesn’t depend on language this is crucial for it to work. Through embraces, caresses, lifts, the folding of clothes and beautiful unison phrases, we are successfully taken on a journey with these lovable yet slightly odd characters.

Verdict: Jetlag is a captivating piece of physical theatre that could easily be delivered in complete silence, as the cast are able to bring humour, emotion and a truthfulness to their performance. This has certainly been an insightful experience for developing my own practice. Definitely worth seeing!

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Review: Daydream Believers, Hope Street Theatre

 

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Daydream Believers by Tmesis Theatre Training Company

Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool [27.05.17]

Welcome to San Francisco and a hippy inspired version of the fancy dress shop in Mr Benn. Try something on. No, no, really, you must – it’s immersive after all. Unfortunately, as I am only one for dressing up when in character or for someone’s birthday (who doesn’t love a good Bob the Builder themed 20th), this wasn’t the best start for me. But, still go with the flow, you’re in San Francisco after all…

Daydream Believers is an immersive piece of physical theatre inspired by the summer of love 1967. It is a love in (of sorts) crafted in just five days by Tmesis Theatre Training Company. Once you’re kitted out with a 60’s inspired outfit or awkward accessory, you are invited into the love bubble filled with a wealth of characters who are out for peace and a good time. They want to make you feel welcome and to a degree that is achieved. Though in my case, a multitude of comments about my hair (even if they are ‘positive’) is not welcoming, it is othering.

Despite not getting off to the best start, this piece did take its audience on a journey with a great soundtrack and a happy, trippy colour palette to match. The psychedelic trance complete with a looming white rabbit is certainly a memorable moment. Interestingly, this showed similarities to moments in Rosie Kay’s MK Ultra crossed with the music video of Get Down by Groove Armada. This along with the moment where one ensemble member places a flower in the gun of another give this piece an originality and honesty that were found in the moments were the ensemble felt at their most present.

The space that this piece was set in was not the most accessible nor the most comfortable however, the company made every effort to distract you from the fact that you were sat on an uncomfortable step was certainly a positive on their part. However, at times, the immersive elements seemed a little off target. For example, all audience members but myself and the woman sitting next to me were offered a ‘token’ of LSD to take them on what we will refer to as ‘the white rabbit trip’. If you going to the effort of including most audience members when your audience is small, you may as well go the whole way and commit fully. Or alternatively, pick out a select few. A little more thought maybe was needed here.

I feel that devised work grows with each performance, as an ensemble grows into itself. So, by Saturday, this piece will be very different to what I have experienced. It’s the sort of theatre that you want to see again to observe how it has grown. And I do believe that this is a piece of theatre with great potential and a talented cast. So if you’re in Liverpool on Saturday, do pop in and see this as, I suspect by then it will have grown into something quite exciting.

Following this show, I couldn’t help thinking about the lack of diversity in the cast but, on a wider scale, the lack of diversity in Physical Fest. I came away from Liverpool thinking: why is physical theatre so white? That is not a question that can be answered in a small space nor is this review the place for that exploration. However, it will be something that I explore in a later post.

Verdict: Tmesis Theatre Training Company have the bones of a good show here. Special shout out to Lauren Whitter, Grace Gallagher and Ellie Woodhouse, who gave striking and emotive performances. An interesting devised piece of theatre with potential to be brilliant, once it’s fully grown and had time to breathe.

 

 

 

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Review: Schrödinger, Contact

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Image: Adrian Philpott

Schrödinger by Reckless Sleepers

Contact, Manchester [24.05.17]

The cat’s name was George.

A black box with the front wall removed. Many openings like a multi-faceted lift the flap book without the colourful folly of childhood. Water, water everywhere but, too many drops to drink. Chalky mountains. Sheets strangling lovers faces. X marks the spot.

In 1998, Reckless Sleepers built a box. It wasn’t just any old box. This box was akin to the theorised box created by Schrödinger. Within the box, a cat (George), can be both alive and dead simultaneously yet, we are only able to see one state upon looking in the box. The box creates a paradox. A compelling thought experiment.

Nineteen years later and Reckless Sleepers invite you to explore the box. Watch the chalking of arrows, listen to the simultaneous vocalisations of a letter, ponder every element of the space and then… a man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats with differences that are nuanced yet so repetitive that they could almost be the same. Things fall – whether or not they are apart, together or existing in both states is up to you. Books drop, water is flippantly swished out of wine glasses, pencils are sharpened, apples are eaten, chairs and tables rearranged, bodies lifted and dropped and pulled and pushed. Bodies breathing.

You as the observer are tasked with watching Xs being marked through a physical ‘dance’ of hands pressed against black chalk stained walls and pondering what this mountain range of movement has to do with a cat. This is not your only task and it is not your task at all. Maybe there are no tasks. Maybe you are just here to watch. Or maybe you are not here to watch but to be. You’re looking into a box for one hour but who’s to say that you as the audience who reside in the dark are not George. Maybe you are George and the frantic capers and building of a triangular pyramid structure to the sound of Hushabye Mountain is how you sleep at night. Maybe you don’t sleep. Maybe no one sleeps because thoughts keep threading themselves as time ticks and you exist in a space where everything stops and starts simultaneously.

A man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A woman drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A man threatens another man with a hammer each time he removes a hand from the wall. The cycle repeats itself.

Two men and two women drink with chaotic order to the chanting of numbers. The cycle repeats itself. It goes and goes and goes. Round and rounder. When pace is lost, they fall from the wagon one by woman. Until there is stillness.

A book is dropped many times.

And a music box keeps playing Hushabye Mountain.

 

In Schrödinger, Reckless Sleepers have welcomed us to sample the delights of all contrasts without their difference. We are placed in a space in which logic constantly defies itself and forces us to consider whether what we think is happening is what is actually happening at all. Watching someone draw has never been so compelling that at one point, I acknowledged the rest of the stage and thought ‘Oh shit, that man ate an apple and I missed it…why am i concerned about missing a man eating an apple?’ I had a weird sense of feeling robbed every time I missed something despite, making decisions about what I was looking at. Reckless Sleepers bring original physicality and warped compulsive sequences that make you question how much you’re being given to see and how much you are choosing to see. Is there any choice in this experience apart from you sitting in your seat: yes and no. Are there an infinite yet finite number of possibilities for each encounter. Every time you see someone drop onto the stage, do they fall? Are you already falling into a space in which everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Yes and no. Juxtaposition is okay among friends and strangers because maybe we’re all the same but different anyway.

Verdict: This really was quite extraordinary. The cogs have not stopped ticking in my head since this encounter and I doubt they will anytime soon. Reckless Sleepers are incredibly talented presenters who are able to give us an experience quite unlike any other. This is definitely one of the most unique things I have ever seen and it almost makes me think that theatre generally has become quite static. This defied all the rules and I feel privileged to have experienced true artistry on stage. Schrödinger is brave, mind-boggling and really quite stunning.

 

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Review: The Marked, The Lowry

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Photo: Idil Sukan

The Marked by Theatre Témoin

The Lowry, Salford [20.05.17]

It’s late. A homeless man is sleeping on a stack of wooden pallets among the bins. We are very aware that there isn’t an option to go back inside.

Pigeons, puppetry and perspective – three things that Theatre Témoin bring to the table in their new offering, The Marked. Through the innovative use of masks, props and puppets, the company are able to take us into a new world filled with a variety of distinct characters, that is worryingly close to the one we reside in. Theatre Témoin offer us a magnifying glass to examine the complexities and underlying stories behind homelessness – a situation that is very much alive on Manchester’s doorstep yet, brushed out of sight. If you’ve ever walked past a homeless person and not acknowledged them, The Marked directs you to think about that person and think about why it was easy for you to do nothing.

Crafted from true stories, this piece provides an honest look at a multitude of social issues including alcoholism and abusive relationships. Flashbacks of inciting incidents to Jack’s circumstance allow us to journey with him from childhood to adulthood. We are exposed to the harsh realities of alcohol dependency – from the compulsion to drink and the anger/love switch towards loved ones, to the terrifying struggle of children exposed to this. Despite Jack (played by Bradley Thompson) being present on stage and acting as puppeteer of young Jack, these scenes are so visually compelling that we almost forget that there are actors on stage. Dorie Kinnear who plays Sophie but also wears the mask of Jack’s mother, gives a captivating performance and through physicality creates a stunning and emotional portrait of Jack’s mother. The comparisons created between Jack’s mother and Sophie throughout the piece are nuanced and carefully stitch both the past and current narratives together.

The symbolism derived from tapping into childhood that drives this piece is really quite special. Jack’s torch is very much a symbol of hope and goodness within this piece and reminds us all of the little trinkets we carried as children to stop us from being scared. This was the heartfelt object equivalent of the thunder buddies mantra in Ted. Top that off with two incredibly engaging pigeons who speak to Jack about the power of his torch and the importance of him continuing to fight the demons. When Jack declares his torch is broken, he is challenged by one pigeon: “it can’t break, it’s a metaphor”. As a writer, this line not only amused me but, was a wonderful reminder that only physical things get broken. Everything else may not necessarily be fully functioning but, nonetheless, it is recoverable. This was a beautiful, small and subtle token of healing.

Verdict: The Marked is a visually exciting piece of theatre that honestly and tactfully explores challenging social issues. The use of puppetry, masks and physicality crafts the world of this play wonderfully. A must see!

 

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Heads Up, HOME

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Heads Up by Kieran Hurley

HOME, Manchester [19.05.17]

Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up is an end of the world storytelling sesh that, at times, resembles the sorts of stories you hear from people sat in Chicken Hut after a night on the lash in the toon. Except this didn’t have the “must keep talking about it” quality that late nights in Chicken Hut do.

Whilst Hurley is clearly a very talented actor and vocalist with the ability to use small and subtle movements to give the performance an urgent physicality, the story itself lacked legs. Either that or it had too many legs that, when lined up, unfortunately tumbled like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind. The four narratives that were delivered to us were rather far fetched, but nonetheless had some important home truths (that are possibly humbling when the world is about to end) and at times, were funny. However, the stories were so jumbled that they didn’t really get off the ground and the linking points between them were too obvious at points.

I appreciate shows that do not crave a set in order to make their world exist and was impressed by Hurley’s ability to provide his continued presence, vocal range and physicality whilst engaging in a live form of play with sound effects. But, and this is a very big but, the lighting of this piece was atrocious. And, I’m not saying that to be harsh but, because at points, I had to sit with my eyes closed for a moment to counteract the pain in my eyes caused by the lighting. The stage was in darkness with Hurley in the centre barely illuminated. It is clear that the thought behind this lighting choice was to create a feeling of tension and urgency. However, there is a difference between giving your audience the feeling of tension and actually causing tension in their eyes. This piece of theatre was not accessible for individuals with sensory difficulties and I believe these staging decisions cut off a potential audience and hindered some of the audience who did attend.

Verdict: Heads Up has the potential to be something great – Hurley is a skilled performer and storyteller and, the stories of this piece have some interesting elements. However, this was a physically uncomfortable experience that I wouldn’t want to have again. Though, I would be interested to see a relaxed performance of this piece to see how much of an influence the poor conditions had on my experience of the narrative.

 

 

NB Having spoken to other attendees at this performance, it is clear that where you were seated really influenced your sensory experience of the show.

 

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Review: Superposition, STUN

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Image: Tamsin Drury

Superposition by Chanje Kunda

STUN, Manchester

“The great thing about lap dancing is it’s universal, you can do it anywhere”

Take a seat in a smoky night club. Await your performer. You paid for her time, after all. But, before all of that, you need some etiquette lessons in the art of erotic dance.

Superposition is a funny, honest, frank and hopeful look at the questions that surround the universe, through the juxtaposed lens of lap dancing and quantum physics. Chanje Kunda has successfully taken two concepts that you wouldn’t normally find in the same sentence and flawlessly merged them into a dialogue around bodies, ethics and being. We are invited to attend a sequence of lessons that are erotic dancing’s answer to Summer Magic’s ‘Femininity’ We watch Chanje put on a pair of the most glorious ‘stripper shoes’ and then join her in a guided demonstration of walking, winking, floor fuckery and how to captivate your paying ‘guest’ through dance. These lessons describe the art in a crisp and focused manner yet, the demonstration is wholeheartedly funny and relateable. Watching Chanje wobble in her sky high heels and try to deliver these poses with elegance reminds us of the awkwardness we’ve all felt when trying to learn to walk in heels and how to do ‘sexy’ in the way that society expects us to.

In between lessons, Chanje recounts encounters as a visitor to lap dancing clubs and how mesmirising it is to watch someone dance. These re-tellings are poetic in nature and allow us to journey back with Chanje and visualise the setting. Beautifully complimented by sharp yet subtle physicality, Superposition is an honest and in depth look at how we think and react to bodies and the spaces they reside in.

There is something quite beautiful about how real and truthful this piece is. As Chanje shares her own experience of lap dancing lessons, we are all reminded that our internal dialogues in group settings are incredibly valid and often very funny. When she describes how they all undressed in front of each other and she was left completely baffled by the differences in pubic hair between herself and her white counterparts, we cannot help but laugh at the bluntness of this thought being verbalised. Given that the media likes nothing more than to peddle the myth that body hair is wrong and that you’re either hairless or a super hairy feminist, it was nice to hear this unfiltered unpacking of how much of what we’ve been told is nonsense and the reality that the only real shared characteristic of bodies is purely that they are bodies. And, it is their variation that makes them truly beautiful.

Superposition is an invitation to a self assessment and a learning curve that you invested in. Chanje steps out of her meeting with her fellow lap dancing students and provokes us: “I let you watch me because you paid… I wonder what you think of my body”. And in this statement, we are forced to consider the politics of ownership, trade and, the commodification and policing that surrounds bodies but, more specifically black women’s bodies. In our journey down the rabbit hole, Chanje has created a space in which she challenges perceptions of black bodies and expresses the strength and beauty they possess. She looks into the hypersexualisation yet simultaneous ‘ugly’ stereotypes that surround black bodies and through the use of physics, explains black excellence. This is a piece of theatre that every black woman needs to see. It is uplifting and a concrete reminder that we are allowed to be apologetically black and that we are as beautiful as the universe itself because we are part of it.  It is in her declaration of wants “I want to display/dance/exhibit/own my black body” that she shows the defiance, honesty and self love that every black woman deserves to have in their life.

As this performance was a work in progress, the depth of and attention to big and somewhat taboo topics was commendable and I cannot wait to see the completed show when it premiers in October 2017.

Verdict: Superposition is the empowering evening that every black woman deserves. We are invited to contemplate time, loneliness, beauty and strength – all through a dialogue that would make a great mindfulness album. A cathartic, funny and brutally honest show about bodies, particles and the universe. Stunning!

 

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Review: How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

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How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris

Royal Exchange, Manchester [09.05.17]

NB: This was a relaxed performance.

Newport, South Wales. Two individuals sit with their backs to each other on a raised rectangular podium. A recording of a phone conversation is played: a man declaring his hands have disappeared. In unison, the two raise their hands to the light. Begin.

Phone sex.

Meet Jimmy. Jimmy is a 34 year old man who lives with his mother, has a kid he hasn’t seen in 4 years, works at a doughnut drive through, hasn’t had sex in a long time and so calls Kitty every evening at 7.30pm for 9 minutes of phone sex.

Meet Kitty. Kitty is a phone sex worker who pretends to masturbate whilst talking to customers, when really she’s just waiting for time to pass. She keeps her childhood locked away in an impenetrable box, practices altruism and dreams of becoming a psychologist.

How My Light Is Spent is an honest, funny and bizarre exploration of unemployment, loneliness, sex work and the search for meaning. Part narrated, part performed in the moment, this hilarious tale charts the gradual disappearance of Jimmy’s body. Somewhat of a modern version of H G Wells’ science fiction novella, The Invisible Man, this play gives us soft sci-fi and a compelling journey through the realm of relationships.

 

Set to a palette of Spandau Ballet, Phil Collins and Maroon 5, some welsh accents and a dash of received pronunciation, our ears very much lead the way in this performance. The stripped back set (which I feel resembles Newport Bridge by night) allows us to focus solely on the two performers. Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley both express their undeniable talent in delivering a multitude of characters, each with their own quirks and emotional truths. They are able to make us laugh and almost cry in the moments experienced by both Jimmy and Kitty.

Whilst this play has a lighthearted feel, it touches on some very important conversations: the state of unemployment and perceptions of sex work. When Jimmy goes to the job centre, if you yourself have ever been to sign on you know exactly how he feels. We’ve all had a Michelle who’s not particularly bothered about your experiences or your aspirations and she really just wants to get you away from her desk so she can admire both sides of her hand for a little longer. Rhodri expresses the apathy and frustration that fills us in the search for a job and delivers a performance with genuine feeling. Universal Credit has been sewing its seeds all over the country yet oddly it is not outwardly addressed in the theatre that often. Yes, there are many plays that explore unemployment but, very few knuckle down into the under layers of a system that can be ignored by those it does not effect. As we watch Jimmy’s decline post ‘signing on’, we are exposed to a very real reality of Britain’s working class or as Jimmy defines it, ‘no class’. The loss of his job results in a lost of meaning and a sense of inadequacy in within that feeling, he becomes lost – disappearing at an alarming rate.

Speaking of rates, it was refreshing to see a piece of theatre include sex work as a key component without solely perpetuating stereotypes. It cleverly explores the positive and negative language around sex work and also opens a window into the world of different types of sex work. Immediately placing the audience in a phone sex scenario was a good choice on the part of Alan Harris – placing an audience in a setting that is usually private forces us to explore how we feel about this scenario but also to question how we engage and participate in privacy. Kitty is a strong, vibrant and driven character who tries to keep most of her feelings concealed. Alexandria’s performance compels us to route for Kitty and to hope that she truly ends up where she wants to be.

The end of this play was looking as though it was going to be a cheese fest but it surpasses all levels of cheese on toast and delivered a heartfelt and beautiful moment when Jimmy and Kitty found the light of life in each other (it was less cheesy than what I just said, I promise).

Verdict: How My Light is Spent is an honest, funny and original love story set on a welsh bridge. Doughnuts, disappearing body parts, personalised saucers and Newport’s answer to Mona Lisa – a truly wonderful play.

 

 

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Review: The Toad Knew, The Lowry

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Photo Richard Haughton

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton

The Lowry, Salford [10.05.17]

A woman draped in a red cape crosses the stage singing. We hear the strike of a match and see an amber glow in her hood. She melts into the stage curtain of matching velvety fabric and then it is peeled away to reveal the residency of the moment that is about to unfold.

The Toad Knew could be a story. It could be a play. It could be a dance. But it is most certainly a moment. A moment in a space that resembles a room that one could only imagine finding down the rabbit hole. Except this is no rabbit hole. Despite having a bizarre essence of Alice in Wonderland about it, The Toad Knew has a peculiarity all of its own that comes in part from its onlookers. Everything from the rotating staircase to the pond in the tank to the flacks of dusty carpet derive part of their meaning from you. As the experiencer, you paint part of the meaning into this spectacle and that’s part of what makes it so unique and beautiful.

Tonight, I watched a piece of theatre swallow itself over and over again. What started as a levitating space age swamp filled with galactic kites soon grows into a home of sorts. Its inhabitants whilst on the surface appear rather unusual, on closer examination are a physical manifestation of feelings we have lived and a multitude of versions of ourselves and those around us. We observe the relationships between these unnamed characters and through their physicality and personal quirks, they are able to speak volumes that surpass that surpass the limits of the English language. There is nothing concrete here. All interactions are fluid and a relationship that could be perceived as father-daughter, brother-sister, lovers can exist as all of these things and none of them simultaneously.

Nothing in the world that we have been invited into is fixed. Water still trickles, sawdust still falls, girls still float in water temporarily and lights still shine bright. Among compulsive gyrations, a piano that plays itself whenever there is an ‘elephant in the room’ sensation and an array of prosthetic limbs and wigs, we are sent on a journey filled with revelation that is quiet by nature. This is not the place for Eurekas and soul searching. It is the place for being in the moment and knowing that it’s okay to relive your memories and decipher your dreams in a room filled with other people. It’s also okay to not know what is happening because you feel that there’s a universal correct way to look at this moment that we’re all participating in. What you can know for sure is that whatever you feel about it is not wrong.

The Toad Knew is a reaction, a unity and a change that prompts us to reflect on our commitments in this moment and externally. Repetition and precision in intriguing movements encourage us to engage in a habitual pursuit of a story that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end. Instead, we are left trinkets of may have been and what could be: sleep disturbance, being held back and wanting to do the right thing. And we’ve all had the feeling of not wanting to let someone go that is truthfully conveyed to the sound of These Arms Of Mine.

Three pairs of arms carried silverware and one body danced under foiled shackles that dazzled and humoured the light. It is hard not to write about this moment in a poetic manner given that it defied the parameters of prose and made its physicality audible. As soon as stacks of silverware were balanced, they soon littered the floor. In the onstage frenzy to pick them up and toss them aimlessly into the tank/pond, we are reminded that there is an unspoken urgency to ‘get your shit together’ – no matter the space or time. But this doesn’t mean you need to do it right now and you certainly don’t need to brush your desires under the carpet in order to do so.

To end this moment, the toad appears in all its white, evocative glory and devours each of our characters whole. One by one. Time still turns and ticks and flows. But, our moment is soon to pass. The Toad tells us of the thoughts that she cannot keep track of, for there are so many. Each of these moments that lived in and devoured each other are not easily described in words. They are not concrete. But these characters, their acts, their journeys, their habits – they are all thoughts. Thoughts that we’ve all had in different manners and different contexts.

Verdict: The Toad Knew is an exquisite and unique moment trapped in a kaleidoscope and admired under the gaze of an honest and personal magnifying glass. Somewhat disturbed but hilariously peculiar, this is a compelling and captivating piece of theatre that reminds us that it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey that you take to get there and the meaning that you derive along the way. A stunningly original moment that we would all benefit from experiencing.

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