Pros: The music and choreography, and the exceptional performance of both.
Cons: Did not really deliver the punchy commentary promised.
The Place is a bright and airy space, with comfortable seats giving an excellent view of the performance area, the floor of which has a large crack across the middle, probably supposed to signify something. Border Tales opens with a dance between two people which starts as a clumsy attempt at a greeting, with the awkwardness gradually turning into pushing and shoving; an excellent representation without the need for words of how situations can change as a result of misunderstanding and a pointer to the really high standard of dancing maintained throughout the rest of the performance. The contemporary choreography is punctuated with some traditional moves from the numerous cultures represented on stage.
Although the beginning has none, there is dialogue and the cast sustained expressive delivery of their lines whilst continuing the energetic routines, sometimes directly addressing the audience. I did miss some towards the end as a result of some minor technical difficulties with the microphones.
The other high point is the music. Composed by Andy Pink and performed by Columbian musician, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Anthar Kharana – who was also involved in the dancing along the way – it provides the perfect accompaniment.
Created in 2013, the handout describes Border Tales as ‘…a punchy yet poignant commentary…on stereotypical thinking about migrant outsiders and bigoted homelanders.’
The ‘bigoted homelander’ character is Andy, presented to us in a clichéd portrayal of a ‘Northern Bloke’ who obviously has his own issues which are not explored. The representation of Andy in this way seems to be doing the very thing that Border Tales sets out to criticise and detracts from the experiences of the rest of the characters.
Loosely based around a party hosted by Andy, who appears to have invited a group of strangers, the party guests show and describe to the audience some of the behaviours they have experienced. This includes a litany of the thoughtless questions and comments people sometimes come out with. For example ‘Where are you from?’ ‘London.’ ‘Yes, but where are you really from?’ When they are catalogued in this way they sound even more foolish. Although I was wondering why asking how to spell someone’s name was included.
There is an ‘I think you think’ section at the end, revealing that assumptions about others are held by each and every one of the characters. I am not sure it was the intention, but it did beg the question of how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy the previously described experiences had been.
Despite not being as ‘punchy’ as promised, Border Tales is worth seeing for its strengths: the music and dance representations of events and behaviours.
Conceived and Directed by: Luca Silvestrini
Produced by: Melanie Precious
Music by: Andy Pink and Anthar Kharana
Booking Link: http://arconline.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-dance-young-people/border-tales
Booking Until: 21 November at ARC, Stockton-upon-Tees