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Entitled, Royal Exchange Reviewed

Joan Davies drifts off during a worthy rather than compelling show

Published on July 16th 2011.


Entitled, Royal Exchange Reviewed

Quarantine Theatre Company is a local success story, an internationally renowned company whose work is unconventional, often endearing, and sometimes puzzling.  They have developed a loyal Manchester audience fond of rabbits, dancing and surprises. 

I’ve heard this in previous productions and it leaves me thinking and wondering how authentic the voices are, if the ‘real people’ in the different productions use the same style of articulating their ideas.  

Their current production ‘Entitled’, developed in association with The Royal Exchange Theatre has its premiere run in the theatre’s adaptable Studio space.  There is much that is familiar, perhaps a little too much. 

Quarantine’s USP, a major strength, is that it works with both experienced performers and people who have never performed before, ‘real people’, to bring untold yet everyday stories to light. 

Previous productions delivered these with a warmth and engagement telling an entertaining story and encouraging insight and self-reflection.  ‘Darren and Susan’ invited the audience close to the intimacy of a mother and son relationship; ‘Grace’ and ‘Old People, Children and Animals’ told the stories of a surprisingly wide range of people.  All three productions have entertained, enlightened and left a warm glow based on a shared humanity.

I had strong expectations of ‘Entitled’. 

The ‘Entitled’ focus is on the behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre, so the ‘real people’ are the theatre technicians, Greg Akehurst, Chris Whitwood and Lisa Mattocks. 

We watch the ‘get-in’ of a show, in itself quite interesting, revealing things about sound placement and lighting you may not have realised before, even as a regular theatre–goer.  Gradually the stage performers and the writer introduce themselves and the lines between performance and reality are further blurred, deliberately so. 

Greg, Chris and Lisa are communicative and likeable as they talk to the audience while setting up the show.  Though experienced in theatre production they’ve never had speaking roles before.  Greg in particular is a great communicator, but all three are engaging bringing tales of hopes, dreams and memories to life after explaining their roles.  It’s a great basis for a play and initially entertains. 

Performers Joanne Fong and Fiona Wright are also successful in speaking and dance roles.  Fiona’s dance, fluid and rhythmic, exudes soul and carries the appearance of being  rooted in a genuine unplanned response to music, just as you might encounter on a night out when they play a great tune, in this case ‘Jump to the Beat’. 

Only Fiona’s great to watch.  Joanne’s style displays her Rambert School training and a distinct choreography.  But it’s difficult to see what brought them together and what relevance their different dance styles have to the piece. There’s some brief impressive guitar work from John Kilroy, himself a former dancer and Rambert student, a contemporary of Joanne. 

Rx4On the night I saw the production, regular Quarantine writer Sonia Hughes, who also dances during the show, had more difficulty in engaging with the audience.  Quarantine routinely ignore theatre’s ‘fourth wall’ and the cast will talk directly to the audience.  On the night I attended Sonia’s direct questions about the value of her life were met with silence and she recounted an audience response from earlier in the run, but still didn’t bridge the gap. 

‘Entitled’ uses many ideas familiar to Quarantine audiences.  There’s a great preoccupation with describing where things are placed.  It worked in Darren and Susan as it was part of the welcome into their home and a setting for the intimacy it provided; in ‘Entitled’ it’s unnecessary detail.  Performers have a style of talking in the present tense and the first person….’And I’m thinking…’  ‘And I’m wondering…’. 

I’ve heard this in previous productions and it leaves me thinking and wondering how authentic the voices are, if the ‘real people’ in the different productions use the same style of articulating their ideas.  How much is their voice and how much the writer’s voice?  For a theatre company which thrives on realistic voices of real people it’s a problem, and a problem which is beginning to make me question my high opinion of those earlier pieces. 

The piece deconstructs theatre by focusing on its component parts and people and there’s a significant and unexpected development as the stories are told.  There’s a great germ of an idea here, and I will look at the technical staff with a different eye from now on.  I arrived with great expectations.  Some were met:  there are strong elements of warmth and engagement, but the whole show is rather too lacking in entertainment and my attention wandered.  The technicians, who seem to be both delightful and highly professional, deserved more.

“Entitled is about hope, privilege and disappointment”, says the publicity material.  For me both the hope and disappointment were there.  I’m not disillusioned, and will be at the next Quarantine production with renewed hope and expectation of more dancing.  Please.

 

ENTITLED

A piece of theatre by Quarantine in co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre

Commissioned by the Royal Exchange Theatre, Sadler’s Wells and Curve Theatre, Leicester 

The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre

St Ann’s Square, Manchester

Thursday 7 July – Saturday 23 July 2011

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