Take on Me

note: these performances are currently only in Surrey.

Take on Me is a new production from Dante Or Die, whose recent Handle with Care impressed me so much.  Commissioned by Arts Partnership Surrey and Farnham Maltings under ‘not for the likes of me’, this piece of theatre has been designed to explicitly ‘reach people who don’t normally engage with the arts’.  It is set in a leisure centre, in this case the de Stafford Sports Centre in Caterham, and created in collaboration with local people.  The two lead roles, and the two wandering musicians are professional actors, but the rest (around 12 people) are drawn from the local community.  Yet it’s impossible to see the join.

Take on Me is very much set in the eighties.  The plot structure is straight out of an 80s film, and these films are frequently referenced throughout the piece.  The location is firmly in the leisure centre, focusing on fitness fads, and the journey takes us physically through the building – cafe, changing rooms, gym, fitness studio, to the finale in the swimming pool.  We are always accompanied by one of two talented musicians, who are straight out of an 80s video.  We watch an aerobics class, witness a lifeguard who has lost his purpose in life, and see a woman enter the leisure centre for the first time in years, reflecting on her life with her deceased husband.  There are particularly moving flashback scenes.

I loved this production not only because it is a very effective piece of immersive theatre, but it did not try to be too clever.  Immersive theatre is cool and trendy now, and often productions try to outdo each other.  But this one did all the basics right.  The location and the production merged seamlessly.  Transitions from one room to another were effective, with the musicians providing a strong focus.  Not to forget that this production will tour seven different leisure centres, all with different routes, shapes and sizes; the logistics, when you consider them, are impressive.  In the end it’s like an 80s film itself.  Great storyline, strong soundtrack, memorable effects, cliched ending (that’s a compliment).

It’s rare that I wonder if I should be at a performance, but this really did feel like it was meant for regular leisure centre users who wanted to see their place in a different light, and who may not go to the theatre regularly, if at all.  It’s a lovely production, and I smile when I remember it, but more than that it shows what can be achieved working with local people to develop a piece for the local community.

Photo by Justin Jones (Terry O’Donovan & Eleanor Isherwood)

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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