Review: Susan & Darren at Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 11 - 15 May 2010
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Thursday 13 May 2010

Susan and Darren

Reviewed: 11 May

_*Susan & Darren* _may have started out as a simple idea, a show about a guy and his mum, but when you scratch beneath the surface and go deeper than small talk, everyone has a story to tell. Unusually for a dance work, this run in the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells comes four years after the premiere. On its first outing in London it was incredibly polished but with over 400 performances under their belts and a life time of banter you could have expected nothing more from Darren and Susan Pritchard.

Much to my pleasure they refrained from adding ‘our’ (pronounce arrr) before naming random family members, but _*Susan & Darren* _plunged me back into my Mancunian youth – instantly the dread began to well up inside. Once this subsided I was open to the humanity, humility and at times horrific life stories displayed in a way that only a Northerner could manage. To dissect _*Susan & Darren* _is to remove the show’s heart and magic, as when all is said and done any comments are personal to the performers who have given their life story over to producers Quarantine and Company Fierce.

Set in the round, the intimate details of Susan and Darren’s life were on show from every angle. Their constant talking over each other, butting in and finishing off each others stories drew you into the show and their love of dance was the through-line of the evening. Whether this be the two of them jigging around dancing to old classics, Darren’s more complex contemporary or pole dance solos, or the Ally McBeal style dance to Barry White’s We’ve Got It Together – bringing on additional cast members to create a big family party. And that’s what this show was – the preparation for a party, the sometimes silly, sometimes serious stories we tell when we reminisce about the past and get ready for the future.

The Northern charm isn’t laid on particularly thick; rather it’s the openness of this mother/son performance that comes across in bucket loads. The show is even structured to contain a Q&A section about an hour in, just in case we had any questions to ask about the colourful stories that had been told so far. The questions asked were personal and often direct, on subjects ranging from Darren’s sexuality, the rehearsal process for the show and whether Susan could ever see Darren leaving home. Summing this session up Darren hit the nail on the head in saying: “Anything that my mum says here she would tell you at a bus stop”. The mere idea of talking at a bus stop may be alien to Londoners, but telling your life story in an epic Forrest Gump manner is commonplace in Manchester.

What may not have been apparent was that the 90 minute piece was nothing more than a distraction to get audience members to make cheese and pineapples on sticks and sandwiches for the buffet that everyone was invited to at the end. If your party food preparation skills are not up to scratch, or you’d rather not chat to Darren about the colour of your bedroom walls I’d avoid sitting at the bar area.

I challenge anyone to see this show and not to walk away wanting to phone a loved one just to have a good chat. You should go one better and take your mum along with you!

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