Old People, children and Animals, Contact Theatre, Manchester
Thursday 19 June 2008
I've never been given a small furry bear to sit on my knee at a performance before but it made itself useful, kindly balancing my notebook and holding my pen. Neither do I remember being part of a theatrical experience beginning with a squawking parrot and featuring a clutch of mechanical fluffy white bunnies which, by the end of the evening, have morphed into real floppy-eared rabbits. But Old People, Children and Animals, created by Quarantine and co-produced by Manchester's Contact and Glasgow's Tramway, really isn't a show like any other, taking place inside a marquee decked out like a circus tent.
Director Richard Gregory has brought together a group of 10 performers in an intimate piece of performance-theatre which resists easy categorisation. It defies the notion that old people shouldn't take the spotlight, that teenagers are too wrapped up in themselves to give much away, that performers and audience can't interact happily with each other in a funny, touching way, and that you need to be a professional actor to hold the floor.
Members of the all-female line-up ask us questions on subjects from trivia to mortality, tell us stories, sing us songs, watch short films with us, dance, and make us all a cup of tea. The performers are brave because not only is this their first exposure to the bright lights of luvviedom but they are relying entirely on the generosity and involvement of the audience to respond to their fragmented tales.
In terms of conventional theatre it's flawed but as a theatrical experience it's strangely compelling, especially the set of teenage twins and their ace drummer accomplice. As for the lady who regaled us with tantalising glimpses of a colourful life, there's enough material there for a one-woman show.
Each performance will be different but that is part of the charm of Quarantine's latest imaginative foray into people's inner lives and the secrets they harbour.
In my review of Manchester Library Theatre's If I Were You I miscredited the set and costume design which is by Dawn Allsopp.
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