Rethink – Union Theatre, London

Reviewer: Louise Burns

Creator: Ardent8 Ensemble

Director: Andrew Muir

Some of you might remember a short-lived government campaign that ran last year, ‘#Fatima ballet dancer’. It was a lazy and ill-conceived attempt to convince people in the arts to retrain for ‘sensible’ jobs. Rethink is Ardent Theatre’s response. Conceived in 2020 when theatres were shut and opportunities sparse, it shines a light on the struggles of some of those whose livelihoods were affected. Although the evening sometimes lags in energy, this creative ensemble wins you over.

Set on a sparse set resembling a forgotten rehearsal room, six young performers are unwilling participants in a government job scheme to help young people in Dorset, ‘find their feet’. They are a spirited and determined group. “I like my feet” replies Gabby with quick irony. Vincenzo Viola convinces as the local authority who struggles to connect. Speaking in banal slogans and with obvious contempt for the performing arts, he leads them though useless exercises such as ‘visualising what’s on the other side of the door’ or choosing a colour to capture their mood. “Why can’t we just tell you how we feel?” challenges Jack, whose anger at this situation is clear.

When the show frees itself from the linear storyline it quickly gains momentum. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the young people as students on a performing arts course. Here, they also perform seemingly silly exercises, but in this case, they are thoughtfully designed to confront and build confidence. They must ‘travel’ across the room– “why can’t I just walk?” demands an insecure Sam. A blindfolded Georgia, who endured ridicule for her choice of profession, must brave a trust exercise.

There are fun drama references and in-jokes, which those in-the-know will enjoy. However, there isn’t always a clear shift in character illustrating where they were as students and where they are now. We don’t learn the stories of everyone on stage. Vincenzo represents an out-of-touch government. We glimpse a moment where he might have a change of heart. Touching but, unlikely.

Andrew Muir’s direction plays to the ensemble’s strength, and with surreal moments such as an unexpected guttural cry, a reverberating drum beat, or a jarring sound effect, he cleverly plays with theatrical form. Through monologues we learn about the performers, and here the play and the cast shine. Rethink was devised in ensemble, and in these moving moments personal experiences are given voice. Hugo Lucas Rowe poignantly confronts bullying, Georgina Pacifico is arresting as she delivers a beautifully written story, and Gabrielle Holloway is resounding proof for why #Fatima must never stop dancing.

Runs until 30 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Entertaining and inspiring.

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