She Bangs the Drums

This review was first published on the MTA site on 9 March 2018.

Contact Young Company (CYC) have collaborated with many established theatre makers over the years to develop fascinating shows, predominantly of a devised nature. Current production She Bangs the Drums is directed by  Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit of Sh!t Theatre (Letters to Windsor House, DollyWould), and includes Cheryl Martin as Lead Artist and Keisha Thompson as Producer. The cast of twenty one members of CYC perform and provide the music, drawing heavily on personal experiences.

She Bangs the Drums explores the hundred years since the Representation of the People Act (1918) which gave partial voting rights to women. The production draws on a rich vein of local Manchester history including the Suffragettes and the Chartists, as well as taking recent political and personal events into account.

Set in the historic 1830 Warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry, this is a site specific performance that uses the available space beautifully. The old wooden floorboards, timber beams and brick backdrop create an evocative set. Video is well used to create specific historical images and projected on three recessed arches at the back of the space. To one side the house band of three musicians plays. There’s a timeless feel; the play opens with members of the cast riding bicycles around the set.

The strongest element of this production is the intelligent way that the cast and creative team have threaded together the themes around the role of women over the last hundred years, and the challenges women still face today. And not just women, but also looking at how men must play their part in creating an equal society. At the heart of it all is personal respect, and that runs through the core of everything that we see on stage. Along the way key themes are explored: the need to support as well as fight; questioning what is the right action; challenging societal norms a hundred years ago and today.

The production draws on trademark elements of Sh!t Theatre including an engaging narrative structure, well placed music, interesting props/costumes, and clever stage presentation (and a touch of anarchy). The amazing talents and energy of Contact Young Company are used to the full and bring powerful words, voices, music and dance. Individuals are given the opportunity to recount personal experiences, family histories, and to sing compositions that matter to them and which they have composed themselves. Ensemble sections are slick, powerful and carry emotional impact. It all builds the story effectively.

The success of CYC collaborations comes down to how well the two parties dovetail, and this is a classy combination. This is an intelligent and moving piece of theatre that brings out the best from CYC and Sh!t Theatre.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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