Manchester Theatre Awards

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


Rachael Young
Anna Smith
The Lowry, Salford
26 April 2018 to 27 April 2018


Nightclubbing is a highly subjective show. It was inspired, in part, by an incident where three women of colour were refused entry to a London night club and pays tribute to Grace Jones who creator and performer Rachael Young regards as a role model and hero. The first of these elements seems, in context of the history of prejudice, a bit trivial but, like I said, Nightclubbing is a subjective show.  It is also confrontational with lists of grievances being snarled out in an aggressive manner.

The show is apparently set at a point in the future where society has moved beyond prejudice and people are able to work in unison to tackle the forces of oppression. There is certainly a futuristic aspect to Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s set with musicians Mwen Rukandema and Leisha Thomas crouched over mixing devices and guitars like deranged scientists and grinding out powerful electro-punk tunes. There is a ‘Heath Robinson’ charm to the crowded and cluttered set with shiny nightclub curtains to the rear and a makeshift mixing studio constructed on a kitchen table.

Nightclubbing is performance art and, as is often the case with that genre, although well under an hour, it still feels padded. The opening sequence with Ms Young emerging from a dark cocoon, presumably to suggest a form of liberation, and her occasional costume changes take ages to complete.  Performance art tends to promote over-thinking: when reference is made to ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Get Out’ my initial thoughts were that they were political movements and it was some time before it dawned that they were actually movies.

The show blends poetic spoken word descriptions of the journey of an immigrant with dance/movement and songs. Young does not specify whether the subject of her monologue is herself or her role model Grace Jones. Based on the use of the occasional distinctive word from the song lyrics (‘leatherette’) and some of the time periods referred to one assumes it is the latter.

Young does not make any effort to persuade the audience to her point of view. No arguments are articulated as to why Grace Jones should be admired or why the refusal to admit patrons to a night club has significance for anyone other than those involved. The descriptions of Jones are limited to her physical attributes –beauty and style- rather than establishing a context – specifying some of her achievements- that might clarify why she should be admired. There is the sense that Young’s outrage is so great it should suffice to move people to share her opinions.  

 Performance art is not known for humour but there are flashes of comedy in Nightclubbing which ends with a great joke. As the music swirls to become lush and rich Young’s speech moves from condemnatory to celebratory exulting in the beauty of various shades of black only to end abruptly as systems fail and the carefully-constructed speech collapses into a black hole.

Reviewer: David Cunningham