Just – awe. That’s what I felt on seeing Susan and Darren, the Quarantine production which has haunted me since its first staging four years ago. That was all brought back to me this weekend when, in the Entitled audience I turned round to see a line of gawping 17 year old faces – they’re not really, are they? – and, another row in front – my old drama teacher. Yes, the Quarantine effect had struck the next generation of A-levellers, brought here into the world of ‘real’ contemporary drama – in small blacked out spaces, for minimal audiences – with movement! In casual clothes!
Except this wasn’t quite what you’d expect from Quarantine, a Manchester-based company who have made their name for using ‘non-performers’ (that is, real people, telling their own stories on stage) in settings which coax the audience into the most natural of artificial exchanges (Susan and Darren involved audience members in preparing pineapple on sticks, performing dances and sharing stories with the performers in preparation for one of the pair’s infamous parties). Entitled took 7 people – 3 technicians, a writer, a dancer, an ex dancer-come-rock star, and a rather nervous seeming philosophy lecturer, and one very simple premise – that the show would take the form of a get-in and get-out.
Drawing on a performers’ personality for the content of a show is risky business, and I have to admit it took a long time for me to warm to the central performer Joanne Fong. Switching between showy vulnerability; ‘I’m not a confident performer. I’m just getting used to all of this’ and outright showmanship (extended solo dance sequences and a Courtney Love-esque rock song), her persona was difficult to grasp.
Indeed, for the first 20 minutes the whole thing seemed too self-conscious – too preoccupied with drawing attention to its own premise – and I began to understand why the production drew such lukewarm reviews amongst friends inManchester.
However, things picked up. The synchronised routine from Fong, Fiona Wright and Sonia Hughes (who usually writes for the company) was mesmerising; in a half-complete space lit by fairy lights, they danced as the three techies continued to build around them. The most affecting moments came at the show’s close, when all the ‘performers’ had left stage, and the techies were given voice. In single sentences they imagined their futures, (as fathers, grandmothers, or as single men eating ready meals), and recalled their pasts. Quarantine really shine when they honour the ordinary in performance. When the house lights came up, I was 17 all over again.