Thursday, 13 December 2018

REVIEW: There But For The Grace... - The Sackville Theatre, UCEN, Manchester College, Manchester.


Students on the Performing Arts course at Manchester College performed a 90-minute non-stop self-devised dance and physical theatre performance piece titled, 'There But For The Grace...'. The piece's title being a direct quotation from the longer 'There but for the grace of God, Go I' attributed to John Bradford. The themes of the piece are indeed hard-hitting and emotive; homelessness, prostitution, the sex industry, paedophilia, lack of work and poor wages. These are presented through a series of unconnected vignettes, either through interpretive dance, spoken word, physical theatre or a combination of them all.

It was a hard watch. The stage area was littered with waste and the audience were asked to sit on the floor without cushions for the entire length of the performance. The atmosphere was heavy, there was no lightness and no air in the theatre adding to the claustrophobic nature of the piece. We were made further uncomfortable by loud throbbing pulsating music (noises) which increased in volume as the performers gained intensity. Several instances within the piece reminded me very much of my time at drama school and trying to find theatrical applications for what we learned in class... here we saw Theatre Of The Grotesque, Theatre Of The Absurd, Grotowski's paratheatrical ideas, and more being brought forward as ways to shock and provoke. Interestingly it was the moments of 'alienation' between audience and performer which were the stronger in this performance. Their audience interaction was at best limpid.

The choreographed movement [either dance or physical theatre] was very good indeed, and some of the moves slick and dynamic. The feel of the piece was apt, but had very little in variation. The cast were angry and downtrodden with little variation from this throughout, and so, after a while it all became rather 'samey' and therefore lost a lot of its impact and power. The filmed sections were blurred vocally and they felt unnecessary. There is a phrase known as over-gilding the lily which is very apt here. The real-time stage show was more than enough to convey the message. The play was also too long. Running at half the time it did run at (or thereabouts) would have been sufficient. As worthy as the play was, there was nothing new to say and indeed didn't say anything new after the first 40 minutes. Had it been cut down to this length, the play would also have packed a much stronger punch and the message would have hit home a lot stronger.

For students so young I think that it was not only extremely brave but incredibly credit-worthy of them to be so 'real' about their depiction of sex on stage. Semi-nudity and graphic imagery such as these are not the normal preserve of drama college students. However these were handled very realistically and maturely. I have to admit to having a tear in my eye during at least one of these very brutal and emotionally charged scenelets.

The ideas brought to the table for this piece were excellent, and the commitment the students gave to it highly laudable. Unfortunately it lacked cohesion and variation, and was too long. I wrote copious notes during the presentation, but can only write so much in a review. The commitment from all involved was  more than 100% and would love to see them perform again in a contrasting piece.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 12/12/18

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