Thursday, 13 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures - Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

While the Contact Theatre building is closed for renovation, Manchester’s award-winning Contact Young Company are creating productions in found spaces all over Greater Manchester. This evening’s performance, in partnership with youth poetry organisation Young Identity, is “Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures”, and it took place at Manchester Art Gallery.

And the first thing to be always checked out when doing theatre in a found space is: what are the acoustics like?...

...This is a difficult review to write, because the production was based on a poetry-filled, text-reliant script – and eighty percent of the time I simply could not hear or understand what anybody was saying. Most of the rooms in Manchester Art Gallery have very, very poor acoustics and lots of echo. The young actors, though fully committed to their performances, did not have the voice technique to compensate for this; and most of the time there was recorded background music playing as well. It was a blur of vocal noise. And not, according to the programme notes, what the Contact Young Company were trying to achieve with this. So my experience of it, based on two scenes that took place in small rooms with better acoustics, the couple of times an actor came close enough to actually whisper their text in my ear, and my own clumsy attempts at lip-reading, was very limited in active participation.

The promenade production initially started in the main foyer, with the full company, wearing T-shirts in electric colours, posed in formation up and down the main staircase. They delivered some text. We, the audience, were then split into three groups. My group was taken through the left wing, through the Halima Cassells exhibition (her sculptures are very beautiful, and I do recommend them), up through to the Pre-Raphaelite gallery, and finally back to the rear foyer to rejoin everybody else. It seems the three groups had different theatrical productions performed to them as they were taken through different parts of the building.

My group was led by three actors in cream-coloured clothing, who alternated from being very calm and caring and asking if we were feeling all right (I think), to going into states of frenzy, banging metal bins and throwing rubbish around in the corridor. We were handed silver emergency blankets to put around ourselves, and led into a smaller room, where the actors spoke what appeared confessional text – and the snatches I heard were quite well-written and interesting – but I now had the issue that the blankets made a loud crackly noise every time somebody moved, which was drowning the actors out. We discarded the blankets, moved over to the Halima Cassells exhibition, and an actor began washing his hands in a bowl while declaiming a speech against background music – I have not a single idea what was being said here. We were moved to another room, which had a large circular display space in it, grouped around it, and were told we were now at a summit – I don’t know what for. Up in the Pre-Raphaelite gallery, the actors went back to washing their hands in a bowl again, and I was handed a handful of beads and requested to put them in the bowl on my way out.

Another group was in the gallery next door, and their actors were doing some very loud (but unintelligible) screaming and shouting, which my group’s actors were ignoring. When everybody was reassembled in the rear foyer, a group of young men began rapping into microphones, but again, with the poor acoustics and the background music, it could not be understood what they were saying. And the performance simply concluded.

According to the programme notes of director Tunde Adefioye, the piece was a reaction to “predominantly cis straight white men” running and controlling art galleries. There was a lot of text, which I am assuming the young people had written themselves, and they had put a lot of work and heart and soul into it. It is such a shame that I could barely hear a word of it.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpischore
on - 12/6/19

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