Above: Rose Leslie, Asif Khan, Lorna Stuart and Stephanie Street in Mixed up North. Photo: Ian Tilton
Out of Joint Out of Joint and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Performing at The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1QE
Verbatim plays may not be everyone's idea of good theatre, but they can often be eye-opening (and disturbing) in the way plays based on the playwright's own words are not. Robin Soans' Mixed Up North is based on interviews with people from Burnley, which is also where it is explicitly set. There is no intention of subtly integrating aspects of these interviews into a convincing storyline. Rather, Mixed Up North starts with a series of accounts of actual, personal experiences which intersperse Bella's (Kathryn O'Reilly) attempt to organise a dress rehearsal of a production by a youth theatre group whose aim is to bring teenagers from different cultural backgrounds together. (One problem - which is addressed - in practice this group (run with care and dedication by Judith Amsenga's Trish) extends mainly to Asian boys and white girls.) When the main actor Javed (Tyrone Lopez) walks off the set, it is decided that the dress rehearsal will be replaced by a question-and-answer session: a vehicle for the often shocking interview data. There are no apologies for what might seem like this 'contrivance', and presumably both audience enthusiasts and practitioners of verbatim theatre see this as characteristic of the genre. Indeed, the script is highly self-referential. After an account of sex in 'mixed relationships', Aftab (Asif Khan) says "But none of this is in the play" and Sarfraz (Kashif Khan) echoes "None of this is in the play." And at the end, Tamsin (Lorna Stuart) says: "I think for our next project we should build a play just using what people say in real life".
This makes for extraordinary and sometimes uncomfortable theatre (the audience sitting in The Rake of the Dukes Theatre is positioned as 'friends' watching the failed dress rehearsal and question-answer session). Nevertheless (or perhaps because of it), it is mesmerising. The 13 actors, mainly graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, create a dramatically coherent production, and the several highly sensitive 'cameo' pieces (at least one for almost all the cast members) are beautifully played: if I had to single out one, it would be Tamsin's (Lorna Stuart's) story about her sister in Act 2. And there are no answers, only questions. There is nothing didactic about what we hear. After the Councillor Roy (Matthew Wait) walks out of the question-answer session (ironically, in some ways, as what he wants for Burley is not far from what the community workers and young people also want), the group challenge each other: "You said ...", "I meant ....", "That was then ....", "What's so great about mixed relationships?"
This is a touring production which has already performed in Bolton, Northampton, Leicester, Southampton, Clitheroe, Turton and Nelson (as near to Burnley as the production could get). If you miss it at the Lancaster Dukes (see below for details), there are two more opportunities: the Liverpool Everyman (Nov. 3-7) and Wilton's Music Hall in London (Nov. 10 - Dec. 5).
• There will be a Post-Show Talkback Session with cast and Max Stafford-Clark on Thursday 29th October
• Performances starring Celia Imrie as Trish: Saturday 31st October 2pm and 7.30pm (see news story)
Dates and Times
Thu 29 Oct 7.30pm
Fri 30 Oct 7.30pm
Sat 31st Oct 2.00pm & 7.30pm
Prices £14.00 / £11.50 / £10.50
To Book: phone 01524 598500. Web: www.dukes-lancaster.org
• Mixed Up North Trailer