Matt Fenton, Yandass Ndlovu, Sam Holley-Horseman, Allegra Jeffreys, Lauren Banks
Contact Young Company
Contact Theatre, Manchester
October 6-9, 2021; 60min
As theatres gradually reopen, some have opted for big-name actors, others for punter-friendly productions. How refreshing then that Contact’s post-pandemic season kicked-off with the venue’s famous Young Company.
This was no ordinary welcome back for audiences, of course. The iconic venue has undergone a £6m refurbishment and is back open to the public for the first time since December 2017. The world has changed beyond recognition in the intervening period so it's gratifying to report that the youthful energy Contact was so renowned for is back in spades.
The instantly recognisable, castle-like exterior hides a transformation inside. Akin to the National Theatre in London, the activity going on at each level can be seen – and heard – from the stairs and balconies leading up from the atrium to the main performance space. And what a lot of activity. On opening night members of the public were busy working from their laptops in the bar, a new recording studio was already in use and improved rehearsal spaces were booked with youth groups in full flow.
Anyone questioning the vibrancy or viability of venues and spaces after Covid-19 need only pay a quick visit to busy and buzzy Contact.
Then there was the show. If the young ensemble didn’t already have a tough task on its hands, the promotional material suggests Everything All of the Time asks what now, what has changed and what needs to change. In just 60 minutes – no mean feat. But the collection of brief, intertwined vignettes of movement and speech pretty much complete their task.
“We’ve been waiting for you”, Bethan Wyliss tells us as the show opens on an empty stage in front of a closed curtain. Bethan’s partly Welsh speech makes way for a stunning group movement number with performers in the foetal position waking up, taking to their feet and rediscovering the world.
The virus is never far from the forefront of this production, though the director’s note suggests this was not intended at first. It’s to the show’s benefit that the cast leans into Covid-19 and not away from it. When will the pandemic not come up in the creation or viewing of art in the next few months and years? On paper, a dance to the WHO hand-washing routine might seem on the nose, but in these young peoples’ hands – as the curtain opens to reveal the full space – it is breathtakingly beautiful.
The piece does occasionally struggle to feel like a cohesive whole, and some of the words and thoughts are surely beyond this cast’s young years. But some standout moments save it: Faz Barber’s hilarious and pointed monologue, Yandass Ndlovu’s inch-perfect and raw choreography and the Chorus Line-inspired finale among them. Always a pleasure to see vogueing alive and well.
Ahead of the venue’s opening, artistic director Matt Fenton (who also directs the show) told guests he had no anxiety about them liking or disliking the newly-developed building because the people that really matter – Contact’s young artists – had helped to design it and had already delivered their verdict.
And that’s the overriding thought of the venue’s opening show too. These young people aren’t asking to be heard, they’re demanding we listen. It’s not just important we pay attention – it’s enjoyable too.
Info and tickets here