Caresses comes to HOME Manchester as part of both the ¡Viva! Festival and Manchester School of Theatre’s programme.  Written by Catalan-Spanish playwright Sergi Belbel, Caresses is a sequence of 11 two-handers where one character is replaced each scene.  This is all set within the context of a vibrant, technicolour, extrovert game show environment.  I have commented before that it is frustrating that MST have to put on plays with large casts; finally with this play we get small scenes.

The irony of Caresses is that the play focuses on people who live without love, have suffered abuse, or who are desperately seeking a place in the world.  Right from the start we see domestic abuse (from both sides) and dysfunctional lives.  As the play develops, various bleak and scarred lives are laid bare in front of us.  Against this, the world of the gameshow fills the transitions, effectively highlighting the lack of love and life in each scene.  There’s a lovely balance between darkness and light, subtlety and directness, and great pace.  The threads develop and we start to see themes, some obvious, others buried; it’s unsettling, but it’s powerful.

This production is very well acted, as you’d expect, but stand out performances come from Amy Balmforth (Middle-Aged Woman) and Queenie Ingrams (Old Woman) who really bring the subtext of their respective pasts to life.  Overall it’s a very well put together production, with good direction, innovative staging, and well designed lighting and sound.

The plays that Manchester School of Theatre put on are always excellent, with interesting and at times challenging selections.  This might not be to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely loved Caresses.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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