Review by Carla Speight
Dancing Bear is a perfectly honest, thought provoking and at times, gut wrenchingly honest show.
In a country where gay marriage is legal, Pride parades are staple calendar events enjoyed by everyone nationally, it is hard to believe that prejudice is still inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community on a daily basis. But then that’s easy to say when you’re a privileged white straight person, as the show’s chorus satirically points out.
Combining music with personal stories, Dancing bear successfully avoided the easy ‘go to’ preaching approach for gay rights and end to prejudice. The show creatively explored various genders, sexualities, races and religious beliefs; through individual character’s thought provoking stories. Each story carried a message of exhaustion with music full of strength and positivity.
The bear was an interesting element to the show, though not necessarily needed. The narrator (Rachel Barnes) took the audience through stories of the bear shedding his fur, whilst trying to integrate with various communities. As the bear shed it’s fur he was subjected persecution, violence and isolation. The audience get to see the transition designed to represent shedding the skin of discrimination and becoming comfortable with who you are. The bear’s transition into a human was performed through beautiful expressive dancing by Mike Williams.
Each character’s story successfully takes the audience through an exploration of gender and sexuality. Regardless of your opinion, and even if you don’t have one, Dancing Bear inspires the audience to think about and even rethink their opinions about the LGBTQ+ community. Through personal experiences based on the actors real life experiences, are informative and inspiring, delivered without bashing you over the head with monotonous preaching. Each song has empowering messages, however the “show tune” scenarios does, at times, make it difficult to truly connect with the meaning of the words. None the less it is thought provoking, and sticks with the audience.
Throughout the show, the issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community within religion built up. Starting off with utterances of several character’s experiences, their roles of testifiers and chorus. Which if left at that would have been forgotten by the audience. The significance of religion within the roles both of testifiers and chorus and the character’s individual stories is subtle yet very important. It is almost easy to take it as another issue the LGBTQ+ community has to conquer. This is very cleverly coordinated as to not be seen as anti religion. Despite the historical prejudice religion holds against the LGBTQ+ community and these character’s personal experiences with religion. They are all religions, or were at one point an the hurt and confusion this has caused them cannot be dismissed.
It is when the wonderful Owen Farrow’s character Divina De Campo was sat in the church, with the other characters discussing religion. Once the other testifiers left the church, due to frustration and hurt caused by the chorus, that the audience experience the full visual of the emotional impact inflicted on them by religion. The chorus horrifically attacked Divina. They didn’t hold back, dragging him all over the stage, finally stripping him bare and leaving him stood naked on stage. Silently Owen stood there whilst the Chorus returned to write bible passage references across his body. He stood there, until the bear (now in human form) appears to help him. This is an emotional scene, which inflicts a range of feelings on the audience. Owen’s role was perfectly delivered and achieved the impact it was written for, and quite possibly beyond the expectations of the writer.
BSL is represented brilliantly. If you’ve ever been to a signed performance then you will know that the interpreter is usually at the edge of the stage. This not only distracts the audience requiring the interpreter, away from the show; it also signifies an exclusion within an intended inclusion. Dancing Bear perfectly included the interpreter (Katie Fenwick). Not only was she in the centre of all the performance, interacting with the audience and other characters, she also held her own role within the show. Inclusion at its best. Katie deserves high praise for incorporating BSL into the show effortlessly, whilst having the most to do. Intergrating Katie into the show was special, there was no delay in the signing, every word was in line with the other character and the signing throughout the songs was spectacular, both on time, engaging and the messages were translated brilliantly.
From start to finish the message is clear, the LGBTQ+ community aren’t beyond prejudice or discrimination, that needs to change. Though the do not dismiss the positivity brought about by the historical changes over the last 40 years. However there is still more to do to create equality for all.
Dancing Bear was commissioned by Contact Theatre as part of their Queer Contact Festival, Celebrating LGBTQ+ arts and culture. Due to the major refurbishments that Contact Theatre is undergoing, this year’s Queer Contact festival is spreading across various venues in Manchester. For more information go to their website https://contactmcr.com/festival/queercontact/ The next stop for the Dancing Bear (a Jamie Fletcher & Company creation) is the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Full information can be found on their website http://www.jamiefletcher.co.uk