Friday, 30 October 2009

Make-Believe - Contact Theatre, Manchester

by Sonia Hughes
Reviewer: Katherine Lunney

This production does not shy away from questioning the very precepts of theatre; illusion and reality, acting and non-acting. In the words of the company “Make-believe shows us how all the pretense has been been put together and asks us to believe in it anyway”

When entering the intimate studio theatre at the Contact we, the audience, were observed silently by one of the small company of actors as we sat and then began to watch her, watching us. This was the beginning of our confrontation with our own voyeurism as audience member and our preconceptions about theatrical etiquette. Particularly noticeable was the company’s choice to have a red velvet curtain concealing the stage and which was theatrically drawn back and forth to reveal/conceal different moments of action. The red curtain epitomises the traditional concept of theatrical illusion being contained by a barrier between audience and actor.

During Make-Believe the theatrical boundaries were not so much crossed as blurred. Each actor told a monologue of their life story at different points throughout the performance, however they didn’t tell their own story but the story of one of the other actors, as their own. This led to the bizarre and amusing site of a white, German woman proclaiming her name is Marcus Hercules and she is a 5ft 7 rasta. The performance was at times a bit too purposeful in highlighting the falsity of their ‘life-stories’ with over-the-top prompting, interruptions and stumbling over words. This served to detract from the stripped-down, bare bones style of performance used throughout by the actors; I found that these moments of theatricality were disjointed, and not in a purposeful enough way to make it completely amusing.

One of the highlights of the production was when the company made use of their guest star - Jeziel Hercules - the 2 year old son of two of the actors. We are introduced to Jeziel as he walks in through a back door onto the stage looking frightened and confused at the audience confronting him, and then informed that it is time for his dance routine. However, Jeziel runs away and hides with his mum, refusing to come onstage and do his performance. Instead his dance partner, Johanne Timm, descibes and reenacts every moment of their dance routine together to ‘Boom Boom Pow’ by The Black Eyed Peas. At first this appears to be a back-up plan for the evenings when Jeziel doesn’t want to take part (although he does stamp in time from the side of the stage) but we soon discover that there never was a dance routine because Johanne reveals “then Jeziel lifts me up from under my ribcage....then we’re holding burning torches”. This is a sparkling moment of fun and originality within the piece.

It seemed to me that Make-Believe attempted to achieve many of the aims that Forced Entertainment attempted in their 2008 production Spectacular, but Quarantine were, in my opinion, much more successful. I believe this was down to the pacing, and highly entertaining nature of their performance (combining song, dance, projection and cute kids) which blurred real-life and theatre. Not everything is black and white; neither is my opinion of this show, I enjoyed it, I’ve been made to think, but I think it still needs some editing and polishing.

Runs until 31st Oct and also 3-7th Nov
frontpage hit counter