Wednesday, 16 January 2019

REVIEW: Life By The Throat - HOME, Manchester

Inspired by her own story and some of the men and women, Eve Steele (writer and performer), grew up with in Moss Side, this was Life By The Throat. A one woman play, which has been developed over a few years – it had its origins at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

This was the story of one working class man’s life from birth to death, his name was James Joseph Patrick Keogh. James had it tough: born into poverty and perilous circumstances. He coped through wit, laughter, and addiction to running, drugs, and alcohol. Through Steele’s words only, the audience were taken down dark and unforgiving alleyways in Manchester, to astounding nightclubs in Amsterdam, Strangeways Prison, and into a jeweller’s shop in Germany.

A striking central performance from Steele was the definitive highlight of the event. Steele’s natural and varied pacing, rhythmic, musical, and nuanced delivery, and 100% investment stood out. Here you have a writer and performer who knew her text inside out to the point where it became second nature - but by no means automatic, every word was spoken as if it had just been thought about there and then. I don’t have a Mancunian accent but I’m probably developing one after that performance.

As a writer, Steele balanced and captured all aspects of Joseph’s life just right, not spending too much or too little time on certain life moments. You had naturalistic scenes then snippets of metaphorical spoken word crept in - often in times of high emotional intensity and anxiety.

The play was acutely observational of James’ inner feelings and experience as well as the outer world around him. Occasionally, this included observational humour. The little details painted a big picture. It was a play full of Mancunian idiosyncrasies and idioms.

Midway through, there was a physical theatre style sequence choreographed to music like Frantic Assembly would use. The naturalistic, on occasion, abstract mime worked for the rest of the performance, but this rather intense physical moment didn’t gel with the rest of the play. Besides, it told us something we already knew: his addiction was getting worse in one immense, self-destructive and vicious cycle. Ally Howe’s lighting design effectively conjured up a feeling of bleakness and isolation, featuring several imprisoning spotlights and very little colour.

In addition, going back to the story and the character of James I felt shocked, maybe slightly angry, by his actions and behaviour. However at the same time, I can’t help but feel that society dealt him a bad hand: James didn’t get the help and support he needed when he should have done – maybe that’s why he acted the way he did. There was certainly “big P” Political undertones to this play.

Watching this play was a fairly intense experience, it was also an opportunity however to witness an acting masterclass from Steele. The performance and writing of the death scene, with James’ moment of enlightenment, was raw, profound, and astonishing. Steele meant every word, she made me forget it was a play for a second, and her emotional fragility was moving. An educational and emotive play.

Reviewer – Sam Lowe
on - 15/1/19

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