We Were Told There Was Dancing

It must be both a daunting challenge and an exciting opportunity to be able to use the underground areas of the Royal Exchange for a promenade play.  But that’s exactly what the Royal Exchange Young Company have done with We Were Told There Was Dancing.  ‘Charting the shifting and stalling attitudes to gay rights’, we weave our way through evocative locations and performances to piece together the stories of those who fought for the right to love.

It’s a tricky ask.  The stories call for intimacy, but this is a large area to fill.  Starting in an underground bar we meet two men who are making moves on each other.  The audience joins in the dance; it’s well done, made to make you feel part of the environment.  Then into areas of the Royal Exchange that I have never seen, the company explores themes of love, desperation and frustration through movement, physical letters and spoken word.  It’s truly immersive.

At this point, the play’s subject matter would call for the entire performance to be in this incredibly evocative, isolated and hidden space.  It’s perfect.  But I guess the temptation to explore the building is too great.  The play becomes a tour of the basement with performance scenes charting key events over time, in particular the Clause 28 rally of 1988.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the promenade itself is managed well, with speeches, eighties dancing and really well set scenes.  But it’s hard to maintain the energy between the scenes.  Some of the connections are lost.

As with the Factory last summer, the Young Company are talented actors and the individual scenes they create are compelling.  The themes are well laid out, and there are clever time shifts that move the narrative along.  You come away with a much stronger feeling for the real people that were part of this history.

16 – 19 August 2017, Royal Exchange.


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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