Tag Archives: manchester

27, Contact

27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

27 by Peter McMaster

Contact, Manchester [21.06.17]

It’s dark. There are two men in glow in the dark skeleton onesies. I think a Nirvana song is playing (it’s not Smells Like Teen Spirit so who knows). Pitch black. Silence. A glow. We are then asked to imagine a woman. A woman who is laying on her side whilst giving birth. The woman is Peter’s mother.

27 is not just a story about growing into a 27 year old man. I feel that if this were the case, I’d likely have not been able to relate with the piece because a) i’m not 27 yet b) i’m not a man and c) i’m not white. 27 however does something quite special in that it is able to transcend these states and their associated experiences and deliver a series of time conscious moments that encourage us to reflect on ourselves. In hearing Peter and Nick’s journeys from birth to their 27th year, we participate in what can only be described as a game of snakes and ladders in which no one is sure of who is rolling the dice. Everything from successfully lodging a marble up your nose to first attempts at masturbation and relationships to your mother reading your diary are a plenty in these honest journeys through time.

To the surprise of many audience members, we are each asked to assist either Peter or Nick in undressing. Those sat on the peripheries of the horseshoe seating arrangement are tasked with assisting with the unzipping of the onesies and pulling of sleeves and, those of us sat towards the middle are tasked with removing the bottom half of the onesie. In my case, the chosen action was firm grip and a quick tug and down come the bottoms… it’s always interesting when you put a naked body in a space (or in this case two). The state of vulnerability in the room drastically changes and it can become hard to know who feels more vulnerable: the actors or the audience. When Peter and Nick invite the audience to touch their bodies and invite themselves to sit and lay on audience members, they are met with mixed reactions. Everything from laughter, to avoidance, to just not knowing how to react is expressed by audience members.

The only time I find bare bodies particularly amusing is when watching The Full Monty. External to this, I often feel that I am witnessing the greatest piece of art in existence and this applies to all bodies no matter what they look like. Scenarios such as this remind me of the first time I went to a life drawing class and on that day I felt like it was the first time I had truly seen another person. Peter and Nick welcomed us to see them.

They then engaged in quite a full on, rough and tumble fight (Catherine Cookson eat your heart out) around the floor. I have to say I hadn’t expected to spend my Wednesday evening watching two men rolling around the floor in some cocoa powder-esque sand… I usually spend this time at a writers workshop. Chuck in a splash of Wild Horses with no Susan Boyle in sight and mate, you’re on to a winner here.

What follows is a cascade of a phone call to Peter’s mother, a falling dominoes scenario where the men catch each other and a barrage of apologies for bad decisions. In watching Peter and Nick take each other’s weight truthfully and then swap roles to fall into their next moment, we as an audience, are given a rude awakening to the repetitive nature of life and exposed to the importance of brief moments and the beauty of their short lifespan. 27 reminds us that whatever age we are, we a changing and we are choosing but, most importantly that we are living and that whether you make the right choice or the wrong choice, the thing that truly matters is the journey along the way.

Verdict: 27 is an honest and witty piece of storytelling that creates a shared vulnerability and window of self exploration within a theatre space. Worth experiencing.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Schrödinger, Contact

Reckless-Sleepers-Credit-Adrian-Philpott2

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.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Heads Up, HOME

Kieran-Hurley-50-628x460

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.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Superposition, STUN

18121509_1269151926533769_196975492802502130_o

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!

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Tank, HOME

 

6817-fitandcrop-890x500

Tank by Breach Theatre

HOME, Manchester [06.05.17]

CW: Mention of domestic violence, sexual violence, suicide

Sonny and Cher are an excellent opener for almost anything.

A film projection of a swimming pool. A table with some technical sound equipment. Two chairs. A water cooler with a stack of plastic cups. The actors enter one by one and fill themselves a cup of water. They drink. And so, our rather unusual and completely off the wall afternoon begins.

1965. 52 years ago. 28 years before I was born. A man named John C Lilly has decided that he wants to teach dolphins to speak English because of course, that’s the most important language (western entitlement much) and with any luck, they’d help us communicate with extraterrestrial life (erects index finger: “ET Phone Home”). At this point, you should prepare yourself for an underwater country western that puts Carry On Cowboy to shame – Breach theatre bring us sinister banter, compelling storytelling and synchronised choreography that could easily rival the 1988 version of Hairspray (you know, the one with Ricki Lake).

Enter Margaret. A college dropout who could be driving any of a handful of cars, dependent on which narrator you’d like to believe. She knows nothing about linguistics or phonology but she really likes dolphins so she heads to Dolphin Point to help John Boy (I just imagine that Mr Lilly could be in The Waltons) with his TESOL delivery. As someone who trained as a speech and language therapist, I have to see these lessons were very… odd. I mean, I’d be interested to know how the corpus of words was chosen for these experiments and whether or not they utilised the principles of phonological development to assist them. Also curious as to whether, minimal pairs played any role in the teaching of voiced and voiceless consonants or whether they just focused on whole words with particular attention to vowels. Now, that I’ve got this out of my system, I’ll consult my good friend Google to tell me the answers. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, so Margaret is helping to teach the dolphins English and this quickly escalates to her basically living in a flooded room with a dolphin called Peter. You really can’t make this shit up. Peter slowly starts to feel some kinda way about Margaret over the course of this 10 week experiment and then it just ends (the romance, not the play). Think Summer Nights in Grease except Peter transitions between being Sandy and Danny faster than you can down a dirty pint after a game of mushroom. Chuck in some brilliantly funny choreography, hilarious dolphin sounds, narrators with the majesty of Jerry Springer, a rubber dolphin head (worn by Joe Boylan who makes a rather exceptional dolphin with and without said head) and a cowboy, and you’re in for an experience, that’s for sure.

It’s now probably a good time to say that if you’re in search of more of the factual elements of this story (as in the actual experiment that took place in the 60’s), I am going to advise you converse with Wikipedia. And I am doing so because Tank does something quite incredible that is arguably more important than the facts of this rather peculiar experiment.

It is very rare that a piece of theatre can take an out of the ordinary and borderline ridiculous scenario and successfully use that as a vehicle to shed honest light on the extensive entanglements of relationship spectrum. To put it simply, imagine this: a man walks into a bar and makes a joke about a dolphin playing rough with a woman because he’s sexually attracted to her. People laugh. Reframe that and replace dolphin with man. Despite this story being true in its literal sense, it is also true in its underlying exploration of domestic and sexual violence towards women. What starts off as the odd nudge, a ‘playful’ dunking under the water, a poking in the ribs soon escalates to more brash methods of physical interaction and a developing blend of denial and fear in the person experiencing it. Margaret, played by Sophie Steer, describes to the narrators how she feels that Peter wants to cut her open, right through her middle, through her onto the beach and stick a flagpole in her. This was met by the audience with laughter. But, this is a reality for hundreds of women living in and surviving abuse in the home. As Peter and Margaret’s relationship begins to breakdown, there are questions around whether or not Margaret cares about Peter anymore, if she still feels the same way, whether his feelings matter to her. The same sorts of unhelpful questions that survivors are asked when starting to remove themselves from the toxic situation they are in. Breach Theatre have successfully managed to explore and unveil this topic in an exploratory manner that welcomes an audience to consider the politics of abusive relationships and gives a platform to the voice of the victim. Watching this as a survivor, I was overwhelmed by how accurate and truthful this narrative was delivered. Every actors exceptional physicality and storytelling skills gave this piece an honesty and authenticity that really moved me.

This play ends with Peter’s suicide. But, we are not left holding Margaret responsible. The responsibility lies with everyone involved. We are left wondering what Peter was meant to get out of this experiment? Even if Margaret had taught him to repeat in English, would it ever mean anything? A whole lot of phonology with the semantics, a metaphor for broken relationships that continue existing despite lacking one crucial ingredient: meaning. Peter’s last moments in a small tank away from his room with Margaret replicate the suffocation that Margaret experienced in her 10 weeks with Peter. History repeats itself wearing a new bloody gown, regularly checking the time.

Verdict: Tank isn’t just a funny tale of a daft 1960’s experiment in America. It’s a groundbreaking, honest and very real portrayal of dark side of relationships and an active examination of ethics and choice. This piece is a strong and important reminder that theatre by nature is political and it does damn good job at owning that. It is an act of solidarity to survivors and an absolute must see. I’m not really down with star ratings but, this really does deserve all of the stars.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: MK Ultra, HOME

33419038674_0c6394131e_b

MK Ultra by Rosie Kay Dance Company

HOME, Manchester [04.05.17]

This Is Fake Theatre.

Welcome to MK Ultra – a physical embodiment and exploration of the 1950’s LSD mind control experiments conducted by the CIA and a window into the intertwined affair of pop culture and the illuminati.

Our evening begins with a film projection within the shape of an equilateral triangle and escorts us back to 1957. Two men are arguing in a bowling alley about the order and chaos of the world and conclude that the world needs a new way, a new religion so that everyone can think for themselves. However when this movement takes off, just like all freedom movements, demands for and the seeking of power escalate. Cue Operation Mind Fuck – with support from a couple of Playboy Bunnies and a lilac animated bunny. And let the games begin.

From here on in, we observe as seven dancers express the compulsions and attempts to resist the declarations of the ‘norm’ – whatever that even is. Are each of their movements their own planned decisions or are they moving like this because pop culture subtly told them to? This high energy, acrobatic performance is perfectly fluid and each movement is clean and controlled. The use of levels takes us on a visual roller-coaster of incredible stunts and tableaux that reel the audience in. Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

With a palette of trippy, ecstatic colours and a reel of projections ranging from Alice in Wonderland animations to Marilyn Monroe, Rosie Kay Dance Company have successfully created a piece of dance theatre that really challenges us an audience and forces us to question everything we think and feel about this performance and the world beyond the one it has created. Cosmic purple flowers blooming, Mickey Mouse conducting an invisible orchestra and Dorothy’s red slippers clicking repeatedly are just a handful of the images that lay imbedded in your mind. And all of this against a mashed up soundtrack of Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, takes us into a blended confusion that it is still quite hard to process. MK Ultra is so distinct and dedicated to its exploration that it had me constantly trying to work out what I was listening to and seeing. At points, I was sure that I could here Narayan by The Prodigy, Toni Basil’ Hey Mickey and Wake Up by Hilary Duff – though I’m pretty sure the latter was in my head, imposed by the overt Disney references, colour charged cityscape projections and hypnotising floor sequence. You know these triangular messages are truly messing with your mind when you’ve got Hilary Duff going round and round in your head… Wake up, wake up on a Saturday night, could be New York, maybe Hollywood and Vine, London, Paris maybe Tokyo, there’s something going on anywhere I go… Yes, there was certainly something going on here…

MK Ultra is nothing short of incredible. I like to be confused and moved from my comfort zone in the theatre and this successfully did that. I am currently in a state of ‘what on earth happened to me last night?’ and have been listening to DJ Rashad’s Twitter to try to counteract this. But, maybe that’s what they want me to do… Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

Verdict: A trip the light fantastic level of weird and confusing – absolutely phenomal piece of dance. Would highly recommend.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: The People Are Singing, Royal Exchange

The People Are Singing

The People Are Singing by Lizzie Nunnery

Royal Exchange, Manchester [07.04.2017]

A tin tub with some cargo net. Some coloured rope. Three photographs. A tally chart counting nothing. A man lighting candles. A child skipping.

Distant memories of childhood games immerse us in a younger world view in Lizzie Nunnery’s new play. We observe a twelve year old girl, Irina skipping and playing hop scotch. But, at unexpected instances her actions and thoughts are no longer her own  – trauma is her puppet master and fear, her strings. This external domination of Irina’s choices only grows as the piece progresses. What starts as an external war to their small home, grows into an indoor war in which Olena (the mother) demands that Irina sing everything away for her, this war lapses when Olena is shot by Dima, a strange man who comes into the house offering safety, food, a ‘home’. A new war is waged as Irina runs away to escape Dima and ends up in a highly original forbidden forest, en route to a freedom she has only ever imagined.

Whilst this piece possesses a strong narrative, it is its physicality, poetry, sound and visual artistry that make it a poignant piece of theatre. Irina’s poetic monologues take us on a harrowing journey in which she begins to question her actions and who their purposes pertain to. These pieces alongside a soundscape that removes the need for specific physical props, gives us a true sense of immersion into this abraded landscape and unsettling forest.

The movements within this piece highlight the characters relationships to the warped world in which they are living and express the proximity in sensation between fear and excited pleasure: each time Irina throws her arms out, are these sensations what she perceives them to be or are they crafted externally. Theses mixed emotions are almost like a replica of the state of uncertainty that arises when you are not sure whether or not you are having a panic attack.

The accompanying strong element of visual arts only builds on this experience. The use of bungee cords (in the colours of the Ukrainian flag) as household items, undergrowth, outdoor games, and a physical expression of both internal and external limitations imposed on us, gives the piece a continued identity – which starkly contrasts with the decomposing identities of all of the characters.

The People Are Singing leaves us questioning ways to respond to wrong doing and whether it is right to do the thing that is most truthful. The snapshot experience we have through a little girl’s eyes also brings us to consider what truly crafts one’s identity in childhood and how this is impeded by the cold light of trauma.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Review: The Suppliant Woman, Royal Exchange

33454568725_d7008a0553

The Suppliant Woman by Aeschylus       Royal Exchange, Manchester

It’s not often you get to say that you watched a play that is 2500 years old. So, I’ll say it now: I watched a play that is 2500 years old. Aeschylus’ opening and only living remainder of his lost trilogy is an epic that shares the story of 50 Egyptian women fleeing their country to escape the grips of the cousins they are betrothed to, and heading to Greece to seek sanctuary.

35 young women fill the round – singing, chanting, dancing, praying and seeking. As they move with grace and intention, we see each of these women’s individual qualities and quirks emerge. The strong collective energy of this ensemble creates a definitive sense of unity and commitment to both one another and their cause. However, the energy ceases there.

This is supposedly a play about women’s rights and empowerment but whilst there is an attempt at an exploration of the former, the latter was lacking to say the least. In the presence of the men, the women were more often than not kneeling and hanging on their words – this is not an example of empowerment, it is an example of why we still need feminism. Taking in to consideration the time at which this play was written, it is not surprising that patriarchy takes a dominant place within its structure. However, surely a modern day take on this theatrical relic could have been more aware of itself and the message it is giving to an audience. The dominance of the male characters and the women’s dependency on their decisions cannot be overcast by their choral singing. If anything, it is a reminder that, within patriarchal structures, women challenging the status quo are perceived as noise and nothing more. This is a falsehood that needs to be challenged and it was unfortunate that whilst this challenge proposed itself through the physicality of the piece, it failed to follow through on this hopeful spark.

I did not leave The Suppliant Woman feeling empowered. Empowerment is a development in strength, confidence and power, it is growth in one’s ability to make their own decisions and move forward. The stagnation of progress expressed in this piece left me feeling tired – tired of the long road ahead. But, it also left me even more confident that a feminist revolution is what will evoke change.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,