WEEK 53: What our staff really thought of Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala

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Have you ever been to see a show at the theatre and thought to yourself, “I wonder what the staff thought of that?”

Here at The Lowry we host a wide range of shows from musicals to drama, comedy to opera. Week 53 is The Lowry’s festival for the compulsively curious and we invited some of our contemporary ambassador staff to let us know what they think of the programme.

Amy Hailwood usually works in our contact centre, but today she is a Week 53 reviewer and her subject is Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala by Michael Keegan Dolan & Teaċ Daṁsa.

Over to you Amy…

There was some chat on Radio 4 the other day about the return of tutus to the design of the Royal Opera House’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. Now I’m not one to knock a tutu (how would you even do that?) but it’s safe to say that wasn’t the vibe at Teac Damsa and Michael Keegan-Dolan’s production of ‘Swan Lake’, last night at the Lowry.

The show started, while the audience were still coming in, with a middle-aged man in his baggy underpants, walking in circles around several concrete breeze blocks (to which he was attached with a large rope tied round his neck) whilst making noises that sounded very similar to a Welsh sheep impression I once perfected myself, on an especially boring family holiday. Behind him and to his sides were various props and bits of staging – mic stands, a black bin bag full of something, a wheelchair etc. and so it was pretty clear, with all this stitching on show that there probably wasn’t going to be a section where twenty odd ballerinas in white came tip-toeing across the stage en pointe.

One of the things I love about live performance is that you get to watch it as part of a group and one of my favourite things about the beginning was sitting in an audience that for the first ten minutes or so were definitely thinking WTF? As was I. Not necessarily in a, “can I go home now please” kind of way, more just like, “where is this going?” Everyone was being very polite and quiet and willing to experience “some art” while also probably mostly thinking, WT-actual-F? I really enjoyed this. Slowly, hilariously, painfully slowly, after being mauled by some spirit characters, this naked man got his kit on, smoked not one but two fags (there was a lot of smoking in this show), face-planted his way though a cup of tea and biscuits and began to tell us a story. The story of Jimmy, a young, Irish lad whose grief over his father’s death and distress at his mother’s plan to move out of the family home, had left him in mental torment, which was now being quashed by medication. Or something like that.

I can’t pretend to fully understand the ways in which this tale of ordinary Irish life interwove with the original story of Swan Lake but to be quite honest, I didn’t overly care because what spoke to me, apart from obviously the amazing skill of all the dancers and performers, was the atmospheres and images the show conjured up – of quiet loneliness and isolation, of rabid political ambition, of the suffocation of a legalistic, religious schooling, and of the horror of the various stories of abuse that have come out about the Catholic church in recent years.

Throughout, a live score from three or four musicians infused everything with sounds unique to Irish music and culture and evoked a mysticism and beauty that interwove with and offset some of the intentional ugliness on stage. I would like to see it again really, as it was so rich and complex and multi-layered that I felt like I needed more time with it. On the other hand, it’s whole raison d’etre was not about thinking, but about pushing beyond “getting it” to something past that which is actually the point. Overall I loved it!

Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala was at The Lowry as part of Week 53 festival. For more information or tickets to Week 53 festival visit The Lowry website, or call box office on 0843 208 6000.

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