I’ve just shared a moment with a woman outside Manchester’s HOME. We were both sat in our coats at distant tables amid a throng of people in their bubble groups drinking and fagging it. She was a similar age to me, bit tidier. We looked at each other, shrugged excitedly, and smiled. It meant: ‘Look at us, on a night out. The night before Tier 3.’
I was there to watch Don’t Go Back To Sleep, a new piece by Rash Dash, a trio of performers consisting of Abbi Greenland, Becky Wilkie and Helen Goalen. Their new piece gives voice to 18 people around the world who were asked specific questions about how they feel and about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. With additional material that explores the same theme, this is a show that truly represents Rash Dash’s values: “We are idealists, making work with a furious, generous, hopefulness.”
To be fair, I was tearing up the minute I got in the auditorium. I’ve really missed the theatre. It has been part of my entire adult life and a bit of my childhood, too. It brings me joy. Sometimes it brings me shoes and takeaways. It’s pathetic how excited I become the moment before any performance. I can’t believe that minutes away, whether it’s shit or amazing, a live story is going to happen. Even when I saw Les Mis 250 times when I was working front of house, it was different every night and it was brilliant when someone messed up. Once, when I was dressing on Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom fell down a trap door. It was high drama. We weren’t allowed to laugh. So, waiting for I Won’t Go Back To Sleep Now to start, my tear ducts were on a hair trigger. I don’t mind telling you that I left in a very wet mask.
Dressed like The Shangri-Las, Rash Dash turned lockdown conversations with people from around the globe into their own indie laments, soft rock anthems, Disney-esque solos and R&B love songs. By including real people’s versions of the pandemic, the show managed to pinpoint them in the world with us and also gave them uniqueness at the same time. Their words appeared on a screen, hanging there for a moment and making an impression on the audience’s minds. It’s a poetic show and the power of story and language is raised by the music.
Having said that, it’s also hideous in parts. At one point, a heavily pregnant Abbi Greenland in a tight silver sequined gown with a side split adorning a Boris Johnson mask did a slimy, sexy dance while syncing to his disingenuous podium flaffle. One great moment came when Reuben Johnson was filmed clambering around Barnard Castle while reciting a spoken word piece written by Johnson with arrangement and vocals by Rash Dash (Good Solid British Common Sense).
But what really made me think was a section which included two versions of a story. The first was told by a woman with a broad accent similar to mine and it really bugged me because it felt like she didn’t understand how the rules worked. But when a similar story was told in sign language by a deaf Indian woman, it made me cry. It had the effect of making me understand that both women were experiencing the same fears and frustrations. It really posed questions for me. Do I have an inbuilt selection process about who deserves to be upset by this pandemic? Shouldn’t I feel the same for both women? So, I made the decision to view everyone’s plight in these times as the same.
On the tram home, I didn’t tut or shake my head at the young woman sitting opposite without a mask – she needed to tell the lads sat near her about a fire in her rented house and that the boiler hadn’t been replaced and it had been months. She didn’t have any hot water or heating. Then she put her mask back on. And we all had masks on so she would be fine. It’s all gonna be fine. Silly old theatre, changing my perspective on the world.
I hope you got some tickets before it sold out, I mean I’ve already told enough of you. You’re really lucky if you did because you’ll feel part of something that’s sad and funny, and also wonderful.
The album is available to listen to here.