Pros: Committed performances and some fine dancing.
Cons: Story felt a little clumsy and lacking in narrative drive.
It was the mention of one pound notes that first drew my attention to the 80s setting of this production. I’d forgotten that before the pound coin we did indeed have such paper currency, now consigned to history, in England and Wales at least. What else from the decade would the show evoke, and what progress has society made in the ensuing years?
The themes of the play are universal and enduring (love, greed, loyalty), and unfold over a six year time frame in a variety of East London clubs. Jahvel Hall stars as up-and-coming DJ Michael, and it’s his friendship with trainee lighting technician Joseph that is at the heart of the story. Club promoter Paul (Dean Graham) gives Michael his first break because he fancies Joseph, and the two lads’ friendship is tested by the career ups and downs that follow.
The speaking cast is completed by Carl Mullaney as drag queen Brandi, who welcomes us to the show and makes us her audience. Wearing some wonderfully flamboyant costumes, Brandi feels authentically bitchy, although Mullaney falters occasionally in maintaining the absolute 100% confidence of the character. The script also has the character assume a “Mother” mantle which isn’t quite warranted. But after a few lip-synced tracks early on, the revelation that Mullaney actually has a splendid singing voice is one of the play’s most effective reveals.
In addition to the central quartet of characters, dancers Jordan Ajadi and Shawn Willis provide some excellently choreographed moves, sometimes in the background of the action, and sometimes in solo sections. A mix of disco and modern dance moves are performed with real expertise – interesting and artful but never pretentious.
Further 80s references (Thatcher, Charles and Di, ecstasy) are deftly dropped into the script, but elsewhere the writers are less successful in keeping the story moving and providing onstage action. The characters explain their backgrounds to each other in a way that isn’t especially interesting, and Michael’s rags-to-riches trajectory isn’t as thrilling or dramatically significant as it might have been. Any 80s-set play concerning homosexuality will inevitably arrive at the advent of AIDS, and this is handled (offstage) with a degree of originality. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of tragedy the script gets a bit “speechy”.
The key strengths of this show are in its design and production. The Albany is an ideal venue, perfectly configured to provide the large space needed to evoke clubland, and the blocky set of a central catwalk surrounded by platforms (one of them the DJ booth) is pleasingly abstract but treated naturalistically by the performers. Almost the entire show is underscored by dance beats, which succeed in giving it an ever-present sense of place, and it is also effectively lit.
Fusing different genres can be a risky business, but it’s the complimentary use of dance, drama and music that this play achieves admirably, even if the story itself never quite catches fire.
Writer: Daniel Fulvio & Martin Moriarty
Director: Daniel Fulvio & Martin Moriarty
Producer: Daniel Fulvio & Martin Moriarty
Choreography: Mina Aidoo
Booking Until: Saturday 11 February 2017
Box Office: 020 8692 4446
Booking Link: http://www.thealbany.org.uk/event_detail/1929/Theatre/We-Raise-Our-Hands-In-The-Sanctuary