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TheatreNI Young Critics Review: Date Show at The MAC

Young Critic: Janette Loughlin

Date Show is the brainchild of Artistoc Director and Producer of Three’s Theatre Company, and MAC Artist in Residence, Anna Leckey, and it has just finished its sold-out run in the MAC. It brings together a series of standalone site-specific theatre shorts which offer an insight to the pleasures and horrors of dating.

The audience are brought down into the MAC’s basement and treated to a lovely little ukulele number from Dan Leith and Aisling Groves-McKeown. We’re then split up into two groups, or menus, and given sets of headphones to use as necessary for each scene.

We quickly learn that this is a show which is about self-worth just as much as it is about the measure of anyone else’s, as Menu 1 participants are led into the bathrooms and invited to proclaim their love for their nervous reflections. Taking over from the pep talk, Mary Jordan steps out from a cubicle and up to the mirror for her last-minute pre-date ablutions: hands washed and moisturised, hair fluffed, perfume spritzed and “whore red” lipstick topped up. We listen and relate as she spends a few minutes trying to calm herself down and build herself – up with a determined “I will not be swiped!” announced with a flourish.  But wait, what’s the gun for?

We follow as she stomps out of the loos and into a lift, where it seems time and waiting and the mechanics of the lift are the only thing making her anxious now. She joins her date for the evening, played by Dan Leith, for an awkward, cringe-worthy as hell first date where guns are most definitely needed. Daniel Kelly plays the waiter, sorry plays the aspiring actor, we all know well, and brings an enjoyable amount of slapstick to the scene.

Date Show diners following Menu 1 were then led to another scene from the two different perspectives of the characters in the scene aptly titled “Last Date.” Written by assistant director Colm G Doran, we witness the unfolding end to a five year long relationship between Jessica Samoy Plunkett and Aisling Groves-McKeown. Not easy when one of you is eight months pregnant and that double vodka and tonic is just out of hands-reach.

The scene is played with a tenderness that you don’t immediately expect, and makes you realise that being placed in these intimate date scenarios forces you to evaluate your own love life. You feel like you can relate to some and then others challenge your perception and experiences in a way that makes you suddenly feel a little sympathetic towards that guy you kinda ghosted, or angry at the guy who definitely ghosted you.

The delightful assistant stage managers Aimee Montgomery and Sophie Flight (who has also written a scene for this show) do a great job of ushering us along, and keeping our energy up between scenes as we’re led round the innards of the building and offered Polomints to get the bad taste of the last scene out of our mouths.

Diners from Menu 1 and Menu 2 are brought together to hear a motivational speech from the elusive love guru, Dan Leith, who has all the energy of a man desperately trying to garner enthusiasm and get you to buy into his lifestyle. Buy one get one free on broken hearts, folks!

“Travel Through Time”, written by Sophie Flight, is an audio journey back in time through the memories of an older couple, sitting peacefully in the foyer enjoying a cup of tea and reading the newspaper. We watch as they occasionally look at each other with affection, and listen as they describe feelings of anger, sadness and acceptance as they talk about what the impact of having dementia is doing to their relationship.

The scene “Ben & Kathy” brings together two wonderfully-caricatured lonely hearts as they meet for a first date.  Played by Thomas Finnegan and Aisling Groves-McKeown, this piece uses projection technology, as inner thoughts are lit onto the wall behind them in real time, giving us an actual account of their first impressions while they politely meet and greet then spectacularly misread each other. Written by Jordan Hanna, the script is witty and playful, and does a great job of showing you how not to act on a first date. Probably.

“Young Love” is in the air for the final scene, as we are led to balcony spaces overlooking the stairs and first floor foyer. It’s a headphones on scene as mover and shaker Gerard Kelly dances with Lizi Watt of Diamond Dance in a flirtatious, lively (joint choreographed) routine which sees skill and strength from both participants. They’re joined by the couple from “Travel Through Time” for a date-swapping spin on the tiles. The scene could easily come across as cheesy, but the tone is just right – its sincerity makes it a pleasure to watch. Gerard Kelly’s cheeky charm is the perfect foil to Lizi Watt’s graceful elegance.

Taking on a show of this scope is no easy task. It’s multiple performances taking place across the building simultaneously, yet each scene carries with it a feeling of intimacy not often captured in traditional theatre settings. The performers bring to life the promise of new writing and modern voices for modern love stories. Despite only seeing half of what stories are being performed, each one will resonate with someone in the audience, and that is theatre which is making a difference.

 

Young Critic: Beth Rodgers

This wonderful production came from the genius that is Anna Leckey, the founder and Artistic Director of Three’s Theatre Company. It was an immersive experience that took place in different parts of the MAC theatre.

Not sure what to expect when asked if I wanted to go see Date Show I had many questions: was it going to be cliché? How much audience participation will there be? I am glad to say my expectations were surpassed enormously from the first minute of our guided tour around the building. I chose Set Menu 2 (a great concept for a programme!) and was delighted by the range of dates, in scene form, from a variety of writers.

The show made the most out of the unique spaces, while the range of characters and styles of dates were impressive. There were poignant moments, comedic moments and beautiful moments within the modern collaboration. Guitar, singing and dancing (by the lovely Lizi Watt from Diamond Dance) and two equally awkward and hilarious audience participation scenes. All of which led me to be able to leave with that cliché warm fuzzy feeling inside (it was not the vodka and sprite …). You will definitely relate to at least one of  (if not slightly to all) the scenarios you witness.

A multi journey, site-specific, promenade performance, that explores the love we look for on that first date, the happily ever after, and the bumps along the road to get there (maybe even a baby bump too).

This was the perfect pre-valentine’s activity. If it is ever shown again, please go! This could be an annual production. As they promised it was the ‘one night stand’ I wont want to forget!

 

Date Show is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Belfast City Council.

 

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, views or opinions of TheatreNI