Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

She Bangs The Drums

Devised Theatre
Contact Young Company, Louise Mothersole, Rebecca Biscuit
Museum of Science and Industry
08 March 2018 to 11 March 2018

Contact Young Company (CYC) have collaborated with many established theatre makers over the years to develop fascinating shows, predominantly of a devised nature. Current production She Bangs the Drums is directed by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit of Sh!t Theatre (Letters to Windsor House, DollyWould), and includes Cheryl Martin as Lead Artist and Keisha Thompson as Producer. The cast of twenty-one members of CYC perform and provide the music, drawing heavily on personal experiences.

She Bangs the Drums explores the 100 years since the Representation of the People Act (1918) which gave partial voting rights to women. The production draws on a rich vein of local Manchester history including the Suffragettes and the Chartists, as well as taking recent political and personal events into account.

Set in the historic 1830 Warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry, this is a site-specific performance that uses the available space beautifully. The old wooden floorboards, timber beams and brick backdrop create an evocative set. Video is well used to create specific historical images and projected on three recessed arches at the back of the space. To one side the house band of three CYC musicians plays. There's a timeless feel; the play opens with members of the cast riding bicycles around the set.

The strongest element of this production is the intelligent way that the cast and creative team have threaded together the themes around the role of women over the last 100 years, and the challenges women still face today. And not just women, but also looking at how men must play their part in creating an equal society. At the heart of it all is personal respect, and that runs through the core of everything that we see on stage. Along the way, key themes are explored: the need to support as well as fight; questioning what is the right action; challenging societal norms 100 years ago and today.

The production draws on trademark elements of Sh!t Theatre, including an engaging narrative structure, well placed music, interesting props/costumes, and clever stage presentation (and a touch of anarchy). The amazing talents and energy of Contact Young Company are used to the full and bring powerful words, voices, music and dance. Individuals are given the opportunity to recount personal experiences, family histories, and to sing compositions that matter to them and which they have composed. Ensemble sections are slick, powerful and carry emotional impact. It all builds the story effectively.

The success of CYC collaborations comes down to how well the two parties dovetail, and this is a classy combination. This is an intelligent and moving piece of theatre that brings out the best from CYC and Sh!t Theatre.

Reviewer: David Murray


Comment by Lizz Clark

Lots of good ideas have gone into She Bangs the Drums, but there's too much here.

It's true that the atmospheric setting is used wonderfully by the video and sound creatives (Andrew Crofts and Sarah Sayeed, respectively) to create a time-warp of 100 years' feminist history among the brickwork and beams. And the cast are engaging and talented, keeping us in the palm of their hand. There are some hugely powerful moments, with bicycles zooming around the space, live music underpinning many scenes, and some truly unsettling recreations of the suffragettes' struggles.

However, the show is littered with less successful moments as well. It's 80 minutes, but would probably benefit from being pared back to 60. An overlong reality TV skit could go, for instance, as could a few other comic scenes that add little to the message of the show.

It's unlike a CYC show to lack structure and attack, but She Bangs the Drums feels random and even purposeless at times, with segments varying too much in style and effectiveness. This is disappointing for a show on such a vital topic, especially given CYC and Sh!t Theatre bring so much insight to their commemoration of this feminist milestone. They aren't satisfied with celebrating the past - instead, they challenge assumptions and remind us how far Britain still has to go.

There's an affecting personal touch, especially in standalone segments from some of the young women in the cast: a gut-punch account of a gaslighting ex; a family connection to the Irish suffrage movement; the haunting final song. This show, and the young people who made it, have a lot to say about feminism, the past, and the future. It's a great sign of the times that they continue to push the envelope in an inventive and entertaining way. But it's a shame that all that energy and strength of feeling aren't channelled more effectively.