Manchester Theatre Awards

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True Stories (PUSH Festival 2018)

Remi Adefeyisan, Ilona Krieva, Wayne Pilgrim and Sarah Yaseen
Remi Adefeyisan  for Truth Be Told
HOME, Manchester
18 January 2018 to 20 January 2018

True Stories takes a format that is rarely used in theatre these days. It is a variety show made up of sketches, rap monologues, songs and dance by four artists from different backgrounds: acting, spoken word, songwriting and physical performance. There is no single theme to the evening, although the fallibility of people tends to crop up rather a lot, so the stories cover a range of topics: depression, heartbreak, arranged marriage and the impact of one’s environment.

Remi Adefeyisan, who produced True Stories, opens the show strongly with his rap monologue on the corrosive impact of culture and environment in shaping lives and ultimately enslaving individuals.  Adefeyisan reprises the monologue at the conclusion to bring the show full circle and end with the cast all joining in on a chorus of ‘Wade in the Water’.

The framework for True Stories is dramatic and striking. Between acts the theatre is plunged into darkness and spotlights roam around as if trying to detect prisoners on a jailbreak.

The limitations of the revue format quickly become apparent. Without an overall context to link the pieces the show feels disjointed which puts the audience in the uncomfortable position of struggling to make a connection with the performers. True Stories feels like a grab-bag of ideas and some of them are very good indeed. As well as Adefeyisan’s rap, Wayne Pilgrim’s dance is a stand-out. Pilgrim’s precise, minimalist almost robotic routine is performed with the artist holding a blank, puzzled look on his face as if he cannot work out why he is compelled to move in such a manner.

But the dance, and Ilona Krieva’s hyperactive enactment of a tale of heartbreak and abuse staged as a cookery class, feels out of place beside the rap and songs performed by Adefeyisan and Sufi songwriter Sarah Yaseen. There is a strong sense of experimentation to True Stories as if the artists are trying out ideas to see which work. The first verse of some of the stories is performed with the artist in darkness which adds little to the experience.

At this stage, True Stories feels like an experiment that is intended to develop and has not yet reached its final form. The show ends well before its scheduled time, reinforcing the impression that it is still evolving and that not all of the intended sketches were included. True Stories might best be perceived as a means by which the audience can sample the works of a range of artists rather than a fully-developed show.

True Stories is part of the PUSH Festival and returns to the Festival on 19th and 20th January 2018. Remi Adefeyisan features  on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb at 10pm 19th January 2018.

Reviewer: David Cunningham