Michael Heatley and the company
Hit the Ground Running Dance Theatre Company

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What does ‘being a man’ actually mean? Being strong? Being brave? Being hard? Reining in the emotions?

And where in the North East will you see examples of true manhood? ‘Doon the club’, of course, the working men’s club where, traditionally, the manual worker goes to relax and have a drink with his marras. And that is where Macho is set, in the Easington Social Welfare Centre, which is a working men’s club in all but name.

But it’s not just set there, it’s performed there too. The whole centre—the concert room, the snooker room, everywhere—is the performance area. And there’s an audience, some of the time, and some of the time the performance takes place among the audience which is unaware of what’s happening.

We open with one of the performers on the concert room stage pouring his soul out, revealing his battles to establish a sense of self-worth in the face of being belittled by others—“They said I was going to be nothing. Now look at us.”—and this is accompanied by laughter from the (invisible) audience. The emotional disconnect is frightening.

Perhaps what we are hearing is the comic’s real feelings and the audience is listening to his act?

Almost four minutes in, the dance begins with this disconnect between the exterior world and the interior suffering becoming clearer and clearer.

We move into the bar: a barmaid and a drinker, in their own worlds, are totally oblivious to dancers Jackson Watson and Jordan McGowan as their loneliness, anguish, reaching and yearning are so clearly expressed. So it is when the concert room hosts a boxing match and the crowd becomes enthusiastic and aggressive. Then to the snooker room, where the dancers play out their pain between the two tables with the players so involved in their games that they are not even aware of their presence.

With appropriate music, which is at times almost subliminal and at times almost taking centre-stage, with subtle use of lighting and with a movement language which seamlessly combines contemporary technique with hip hop and breakdance, Macho involves us deeply in the turmoil and confusion of trying to understand and deal with what is it means to be a man and to challenge what is toxic.

The recording will remain on YouTube indefinitely.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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