Devised by Ben Duke and the company
Barely Methodical Troupe
Quays Theatre, The Lowry
First, the bad news. Barely Methodical Troupe is doing only this single show at The Lowry. This, in turn is bad news for my colleague, Mark Smith, who was looking forward to seeing their Wednesday show (now cancelled) but can’t make it tonight.
Now, the good news. I got to be here in Mark’s place, and what an exhilarating, amusing, breathtaking, occasionally astonishing, thoroughly joyous sixty minutes it is.
The evening begins unpromisingly, it has to be said, with the reviewer’s nightmare—no programme, no flier, no cast sheet. No names, no pack drill. For tonight’s performance of Kin, let me introduce the tall one, the short, cocky one, the bearded one, the French one with the tattoo, the handsome one… okay lads, you’re all handsome, including the female one. So, let’s re-title this show:
5 Lads (and a Lass) Go Mad in Salford.
In the dark, the sound of running and commotion. Lights up on five young men in a mêlée—struggling and arguing on the floor. An official-looking young woman—long, grey leather coat, sunglasses for anonymity, clipboard under her arm—steps on, stage right. Becoming aware of her presence, the squabbling stops and the young men get, sheepishly, to their feet.
The woman takes her seat at a small perspex desk, downstage left. On the desk is a red telephone, a microphone and a red button. The men retreat upstage to five “concrete” plinths. Donning laurel wreaths, each mounts a plinth and strikes a mock-heroic pose. A little girl behind us giggles, as she will do throughout the show and with good cause. There’s lots of wit in Kin, albeit something serious lurks beneath.
A microphone on a long cable swings down to hang centre stage and, one by one, the lads are called up to perform their party-piece (juggle, dance “sexily”, play a trumpet or an accordion, etc). It becomes clear they are auditioning, but for what? All this is played for laughs (the compulsive giggler loves it, as do we). (Note to parents: there is a momentary adolescent pose involving a banana, which some might find a bit cheeky, but this is a production all the youngsters present—mainly young teens—seem to love. They are a small minority tonight, and there really ought to be more).
To cut to the chase - and it is a chase, in the cherchez la femme sense—the boys are auditioning for the girl.
“Who should I choose?”
As each man goes through his increasingly acrobatic paces, she occasionally presses the red button. A buzzer sounds. You’ve blown it, mate. Next.
Sometimes they work as a team or use each others’ bodies as apparatus. But there are also props to work off: a plank, a seesaw and a man-size, metal ring. This last is employed in two of the production's finest routines. The acrobat / gymnast / dancer (what to call these performers?!) rolls the ring around the stage, stepping or leaping around or through, hanging, twisting, spinning over and within it. Graceful, powerful movements. These two routines alone are worth the ticket price, but there are many more.
Intermittently, the red 'phone rings. The woman listens intently, answering with a single word; "yes" or "no", often leaving the stage when she hangs up. Whatever choice she will make, we see, it will not be an entirely free one. The men redouble their efforts to impress, but soon we see that she is no mere straightwoman to these comic cavorters. She is a skilled and courageous athlete in her own right. The most heartstopping moments come as she drops, head first, towards stage, having launched from standing on a man’s shoulders. He catches her, single digit centimetres from pile-driving her skull into the boards. Don’t try this at home. No, really—don’t.
"Who do you trust?" Kin, of course, but for this ensemble, the answer might just as well be, each other.
Unexpectedly, the tables are turned and, as the woman heads for the swinging microphone, the boys seize her seat at the desk. While their mood is mischievous and playful, hers is sincere and vulnerable. Her acapella rendition of Don McLean’s “Vincent” may not be the most melodic you have heard but it will, perhaps, be the most human.
“What are you afraid of?”
“Being alone,” she replies.
The performance is punctuated by spontaneous applause from an audience that can’t contain its delight. There are too many wonders here to list them all—the human tower in the long overcoat is one of my favourites (more impressive to see than to read, I promise; much more).
Having made the shift from detached, barely engaged, judge to participant (being thrown and caught, walking literally on a staircase of heads) she is now more taken with the lads than at first encounter—spoilt for choice, in fact. The red 'phone rings.
“I can only choose one of you.”
All seem equally disappointed. The lads trudge back to their plinths, each donning his laurel, striking his pose. However reluctantly, choose she does. Pandemonium ensues and the lights go down on a pile of male bodies, squabbling and wrestling. Ah, so this is what they were fighting about when we first met them…
Kin is physical theatre at its most energetic and, often, at its most impressive in terms of its physical demands, its level of skill and the unstinting trust in each other required of its performers. And yet, as the giggling behind reminds us, there is constant fun and laughter.
One more astonishing thing to note: there are still tickets available for this tour. Pick up your 'phone; get online; drive, cycle or run to the nearest box office. Take yourselves, your friends, your children. See Barely Methodical Troupe in action, before you have to start queuing overnight or bartering with touts to get the chance.
Reviewer: Martin Thomasson