Tag Archives: immersive

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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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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