Saturday, 28 April 2018

"Windrush" at the Peacock - "More than just art. It was an education."

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Phoenix Dance Theatre Mixed Programme (Calyx, Shadows and Windrush, Movement of the People) Peacock Theatre, London, 27 April 2018, 19:30

I don't know whether any ministers, members of Parliament, journalists or other opinion makers have managed to make their way over to Kingsway to see Phoenix Dance Theatre's Windrush, Movement of the People but, if they didn't they should have done because they would have learned a lot. Yesterday's triple bill was more than just art. It was an education.

It took a remark from a member of the audience at the question and answer session after the show for me to understand why Calyx, Shadows and Windrush, Movement of the People were so poignant.  The questioner pointed out the link between Shadows, which was about the "knock on the door".  Something that members of the Windrush generation have had to fear.  The persecution of human beings springs from hate.  Hate is is a form of evil.  Calyx, which is inspired by Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, explores how evil germinates, sprouts tentacles and spreads (see my review of Sandrine Monin's Calyx in There's a reason why Phoenix was my contemporary company of the year 11 Feb 2017).  Sharon Watson mirrored that theme by her juxtaposition of Enoch Powell's rivers of blood speech with the toxic alphabet soup (or laundry) that the masked landladies were stirring.

Yesterday's show went very well.  The dancers in all three works were brilliant.  I have never seen them perform better.   Everybody clapped enthusiastically and more than a few members of the audience rose to their feet.  But the atmosphere in the Peacock last night was somehow different from the first night at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. That was as much a party as a performance. As I wrote in Windrush: Movement of the People 8 Feb 2018:
"The final scene is a church with stained glass lighting, a pastor and his choir. It's a service but this service is almost a party. The cast invite those in the front seats onto the stage. The audience claps rhythmically and euphorically then rises to its feet as one. A triumph indeed!" 
What was the reason for this change of atmosphere?  I think the answer is that February was a time for  celebration whereas last night was a time for reflection.  How could it be anything else with David Lammy's speech ringing in our ears and all the revelations in the news so fresh in  our memories?

In the questions and answers Sharon Watson was asked what had inspired her. She replied unhesitatingly that it was the experiences of her mother.  She discussed the juxtaposition of Jim Reeves with Ska. "That was my Sunday morning" Sharon explained.  A lady to the right of me chuckled: "yes, I remember that." And so do I, though, in my recollection, it was two tellies - one with football and the other with Songs of Praise - lashings of jollof rice or plasas, Guinness and, occasionally, if someone had recently returned from Freetown, a bottle of Star Beer.

As in Leeds and in the previews the most moving part of the performance for me was the arrival "You called and we came."  A member of the audience mentioned it in the Q & A. "So often we hear the words, 'you came over and ..............'  But it was not like that. We answered a call and we should never let anyone forget that."

Phoenix are giving just one more performance in London at 19:30 tonight.   If you want to see them after today you will have to travel to Barnsley. Birmingham or Newcastle.  But having nipped down last night to see them in London I would say that they that they are well worth the effort.

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