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Don’t Leave Me This Way – Voila! Festival, Cockpit Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers and Creators: Rosie Garton and Ildiko Ripple

Zoo Indigo’s new show asks some big questions about home, belonging and cultural identity as its two protagonists explore the role of their family heritage in the here and now. Premiered as a pre-recorded film as part of the Voila! Festival at the Cockpit Theatre, Don’t Leave Me This Way is a mini variety performance in which the performers consider their multi-European inheritance.

Don’t Leave Me This Way is part competition, part history lesson, part whistle-stop tour of family, memory, culture and history. Presented as a filmed performance captured in a rehearsal room during lockdown, the show is staged on four runways separated by stacked suitcases onto which images, news footage and videos are projected, to add context to the show, all underscored by evocative violin music played by Rob Rosa.

This is not an easy show to describe with its incorporation of different types of performance inspired by and drawn from a broad expression of the four countries included. Rosie Garton is English with an Irish mother while Idiko Ripple is German with a Hungarian mother living in the UK, and in preparation for the show the pair visited the various countries and in some cases followed their parents exact route in the hope of understanding who they are.

The show is given a Eurovision-like frame in which Garton and Ripple perform as the respective nations interspersed with audience cheers and the dulcet tones of Terry Wogan. It begins with a competitive edge as the performers are challenged to name famous writers, inventions, celebrities, and food as well as perform a representative dance from their respective cultures.

As the show evolves, it includes cultural stereotypes such as associating Ireland with potatoes and Hungary with goulash as well as songs, music and physical performance – some of which is a little opaque – with a deepening sense of the personal journeys the pair have taken. The more serious elements of the show are where Don’t Leave Me This Way is strongest as both Garton and Ripple independently describe a feeling of disconnection when they physically visit the places their mothers are from and a generational separation from their legacy.

Garton’s final solo monologue is one of the most impactful as she reflects on being a ‘chameleon’, absorbing identities and accents wherever she has happened to be without ever fitting in, while Ripple by contrast suggests ‘the past doesn’t really go away,’ accompanied by a Lady Macbeth hand wiping gesture. This is not a debate the production can resolve, throwing up lots of questions about the various meanings of home, belonging and how to shake-off the burden of cultural heritage and continuation in order to live in the now.

With plenty of research underlying the creative interpretations, sketches and monologues that comprise this production, it is a shame that the experience of travel isn’t drawn more visibly into the story, and used more purposefully to shape the production. It could begin with any expectations the performers had of these countries and how their trips changed both those impressions and their understanding of their own family history.

Dedicated to Matt Marks who is given an extended tribute as part of the show, Don’t Leave Me This Way has a little too much in the mix in this first draft but has plenty of strong material to feed into a planned live performance in May. As Brexit looms once more, this is a production that celebrates how European we all are, not only genetically but in the broadest cultural sense as freedom of movement brought people as well as literature, popular culture and music across borders.

Available Until 21 November 2020

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