The Global Playground
Great Northern Warehouse, Manchester
Following its MIF debut in 2017 with The Welcoming Party, Theatre-Rites, a company that has been creating work that it describes as "experimental theatre for children" since 1995, has returned to Manchester with a very different show directed by Artistic Director Sue Buckmaster, available to watch both live in person and online.
I watched the online version and, although it was filmed in the performance space without an audience, it does feel like it was made for the camera rather than a filmed theatre performance. In fact, it comes across, at least at first, like a 'making of' extra on a DVD (remember those?) as it begins with Sean Garratt explaining that he is to make a film of some dancers, who have yet to arrive. His camera, however, isn't always obedient and answers him back (with a bit of puppetry and ventriloquism from Garratt).
The dancers arrive one at a time to be filmed, and each has a dance (choreographer Gregory Maqoma) to introduce themselves with some sort of a message: Annie Edwards is frustrated as Sean has wandered off and she doesn't think she is wanted; Jahmarley Bachelor performs moves that Sean thinks are a little risqué for a family audience; Kennedy Muntanga tries to dance with Thulani Chauke via a video call that keeps failing, and the jumping and buffering becomes part of the rhythm to which they dance; Charmene Pang dances round to try to get Sean to notice she has arrived while he is occupied filming the others. They are accompanied by Merlin Jones on percussion with additional recorded music from composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson, who makes a brief appearance on video.
The final member of the team arrives in a cardboard box courtesy of the sponsors: a puppet called Terry—basically a Sesame Street-style Muppet with a touch of Avenue Q. They all play together with anything to hand, while Sean tries to control them enough to make their antics into a film. There are some great routines, such as the camera tripod that acts like a poppet, allowing its holder to control the movements of the others, and imaginative use of camera reflectors and soft boxes to create various objects and items of clothing.
Finally, after a little fall-out when Sean thinks the other have gone too far is resolved and they are all friends again, the film has miraculously been made and edited by the mischievous camera for them all to see at the end.
It's all great fun with some skilled performances in dance, music and puppetry and doesn't outlast its welcome even for younger viewers (it is listed as running at an hour and a quarter, but the recorded version online is just short of an hour). It is recommended for ages 8+, but, while it remains childlike throughout, it is never childish, so it is equally entertaining for adults.
Reviewer: David Chadderton