Manchester Theatre Awards

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Only Speak When Spoken To (PUSH Festival 2018)

Meraki Collective
Meraki Collective
HOME, Manchester
23 January 2018 to 24 January 2018

So far the shows in this year’s PUSH Festival have been collections of short pieces. Only Speak When Spoken To continues this pattern featuring sketches, dance, mime and music created by electronically mixing ordinary sounds.

As the title suggests, the rules that govern polite behaviour form an overall theme to the show. Throughout an authoritative voice-over dictates how one should behave on public transport or when eating or even sitting in company. Two performers, who comprise the Meraki Collective, respond to these orders while wearing extraordinary bright wigs. No indication is given of the time period from which the instructions originate or the place where they were issued so the audience does not know if they are from a hopelessly out-dated contemporary institution or from the Victorian period which makes it harder to judge if they are ridiculous or just past their time.

The duo responds to the instructions as politely as they can and seem keen to avoid passing judgement on what they have been ordered to perform. Instructions on polite behaviour at the dining table forms the basis for a seated dance piece with the dancers miming folding napkins , carefully crossing legs and so on at rapid speed.

Meraki Collective seem to be using the instructions as a form of inspiration – prompting ideas for pieces rather than mocking the concept - so the dancers obediently walk in a poised manner with books balanced on heads. Inevitably, however, protest bubbles up taking the form of rebellion and bump and grind movements replace the sedate dancing. 

There is a hint that Only Speak When Spoken To may have been padded with pieces from earlier shows that are not related to the theme of manners including a broad comic piece mocking masculine stereotypes. Even so the show finishes well short of the allocated time.

The humour tends towards the abstract with examples of how friendly greetings can go horribly wrong and patrons are invited onstage to help illustrate embarrassing small talk. Bananas play a major part in the show.

As with any variety show Only Speak When Spoken To is something of a Curate’s Egg with some parts being better than others. The electronically mixed music forms an effective backing for the pieces but is uninspiring in its own right.  One is never really at ease with abstract humour but the dance and mime pieces are an excellent use of the form to illustrate the themes of the show.

Only Speak When Spoken To is part of the PUSH Festival and returns to the Festival on 24th January 2018.

Reviewer: David Cunningham