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Wasteland – Contact, Manchester

Reviewer: Richard Hall

Writer/director: Gary Clarke

Script and text: Lewey Hellewell

Rave soundtrack: Charles Webber

Following the critical success of its dance theatre production Coal which detailed the demise of the coal mining industry, the Gary Clarke Company bring to the Contact, a revival of its dynamic and pulsating sequel. In Wasteland Gary Clarke again highlights the anguish and despair caused in the 1990’s by the closure of coal mines and the destruction of working-class communities, as well as exploring in their wake the emergence of rave culture. Wasteland is a hugely impressive piece of total theatre, which combines Clarke’s unique visceral dance language, with archive film footage of pit closures, a blistering rave sound score by Charles Miller and live music performed by a community pit men choir and instrumentalists from the WFEL Fairey Brass Band.

Based on Clarke’s own experiences of immersing himself in the 1990’s rave scene and interviews with former miners, this mesmerizing fusion of art forms powerfully evokes the hopelessness felt by communities living in industrial wastelands, alongside the rising excitement of a young generation discovering a new underground subculture. An extraordinary ensemble of dancers, headed by Parsifal James Hurst as the Last Miner and Robert Anderson as his son, provide the emotional and physical centre to the piece. Their volatile relationship is played out in a terrific series of brutal and tender dance duets that are deeply moving and terrifying in equal measure. Fleeing from the hell of his own personal wasteland, the son seeks refuge and sanctuary in Acid House, where his desolation quickly turns into euphoria as he readily embraces the rave moment and all it entails.

For most of the productions spellbinding eighty minutes, the stage explodes with the raw energy and theatricality of Anderson and four other dancers, creating intricate and exquisite dance routines, faithfully recreating gestures, mannerisms and moves from the heyday of Acid House. Complete with bucket hats, track suits and obligatory maracas, the dancers with the stamina of superheroes perfectly capture the fresh-faced disillusionment of a failed generation and the intoxicating allure and essence of rave.

There is much in this brilliant production that resonates with current social problems and in particular the proliferation of industrial action. That through the discovery of rave music and dance Gary Clarke himself was able to escape his own wasteland is testament to his creativity, resilience, and tenacity. Although the miners strike and the emergence of rave took place in another Century, Clarke’s dazzling production brings them sharply into focus making them as real as if they took place yesterday.

Runs until 3 February 2023

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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