Director: Sue Buckmaster
Choreographer: Gregory Maqoma
Composer: Ayanna Witter-Johnson
The Manchester International Festival (MIF) is an arts festival with a capital ‘A’. The producers show a preference for challenging even obscure material rather than simple entertainment. A ‘family’ show suitable for children does not seem to accord with such a high-minded approach yet that is what is The Global Playground promises.
Designer Ingrid Hu has set up Unit 5 at the Great Northern Warehouse in Manchester as a film studio. There is a circular stage, lighting rigs and reflective screens along with scaffolding that allows multi-level entrances. Cameraman Sean Garratt is making a film featuring a quartet of dancers (Jahmarley Bachelor, Annie Edwards, Kennedy Junior Muntanga and Charmene Pang) but there are a few challenges. A cast member is absent and the sponsors have insisted on the addition of a puppet. More significantly the equipment, far from being inanimate, seems to be developing personalities and at times directing the cast.
It takes some time for director Sue Buckmaster to integrate the various elements in The Global Playground. Initially, the comedy and dance seem separate rather than working together. It is a long time before standard features of a family show- encouraging the audience to clap along- make an appearance. Consequently, the opening sequences have a tentative, episodic feel.
Gradually, however, cohesion develops, and the show becomes arresting. The first really successful piece is a superb comic sequence in which the cast are compelled by supernatural means, to duplicate the movements of a camera tripod. Although The Global Playground is a slick multi-media production with screens all involved seem most comfortable with the old-school methods of a talented cast working wonders with what seem to be basic props.
The humour in the show is understated. Sean Garratt carries most of the comedy, and becomes the cast member to whom children might relate, manipulating, and adding comic personalities to, objects and puppets.
The show promotes a positive viewpoint on the benefits working together. Appropriately, therefore, Theatre-Rites build in elements of real-life to make The Global Playground a true family affair. The cast perform under their own names and their biographical details are incorporated into the show. As cast member Thulani Chauke was not able to travel to the UK his absence becomes part of the plot and he is represented on-screen.
Gregory Maqoma’s startling choreography does not conform to a single style. It moves from punchy urban to a generating a wistful sense of wonder. Maqoma does not adapt his work to accommodate the perceived attention span of a young audience but challenges them to make a connection with demanding material.
The staggering range of the choreography is best reflected in a stunning closing sequence. Reflective screens are initially used in a comedic piece which evolves to becomes more delicate and charming before switching again into an ominous tone which although family-friendly still carries a hint of menace.
The Global Playground does not conform to the norms of what might be expected of a ‘family’ show. This challenging approach makes the show more demanding and so more satisfying for a wide audience.
Runs until 18 July 2021