I have just started reviewing as part of the Manchester Theatre Awards Youth Panel (super exciting!) – I’ll be posting my reviews on here but they will also be visible on the MTA website. This is my first one!
Set in a dystopian future, I’d like to say something depicts Britain under the thumb of fascism, a nightmare world where ethnic minorities are forcibly deported, women are second class citizens and the Big Issue is believed to cause homelessness. An opening audio clip from a pirate radio station informs us that although the outlook is bleak, rebels are fighting against the regime and the performance space is their shelter.
The young cast members burst onto the stage, having fled a protest, and this high energy is sustained for the whole performance. The cast engage confidently with the audience as if they are fellow escapees – I had ‘how are you still alive?!’ shouted at me – and this level of interaction continues with narration, monologue and even a spoken citizenship test. As the characters pass through the shelter, different interactions play out and the audience learns what they want to say – the shelter enables them to communicate just as theatre enables young people to contact the world. The group’s interactions are interspersed with snapshots of society, brief scenes which include the screening of foetuses in a lab, a reality show where viewers vote to save contestants from deportation and perky children’s tv presenters condemning homosexuality. These scenes could easily come across as preachy, but the dark humour running throughout the whole production ensures that they are entertaining and thought-provoking.
I’d like to say something makes excellent use of both music and dance not just as part of the scenes – the shelter is intended as a venue for forbidden music – but as alternative forms of self-expression for the characters. Jaz, the only non-native English speaker, dances where she cannot communicate verbally, while other characters choose songs to reflect their situation. Even as dancers, singers and musicians, the cast excel themselves.
The set is equally impressive. Televisions stacked up in pyramids blare light from their screens – and display the pre-recorded tv shows – while tabloid front pages with horribly familiar headlines cover the walls. The audience are sat facing into the centre, on seats draped with different fabrics. It feels like being in a shelter, isolated but protected.
My only criticism of this piece would be that the ending – with the revelation that the character Steve is a police officer, and has betrayed his friends – feels rather sudden, but this could just be because I didn’t want the performance to be over.
If this piece from Contact Young Actors Company is anything to go by, Contacting the World 2014 is going to be a sensational festival. When I’d like to say something is performed in juxtaposition with a piece from CYAC’s Iranian exchange partner, margintheater, I have no doubt that it will take on new meaning and that its cast will continue to impress.