Review: We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary - Albany
It’s not so often that we see club culture referenced in theatrical productions but We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary is a show, developed as part of the Albany Theatre’s Hatched new writing programme, which combines dance and theatre to forcibly shout out about queer club culture: its political and social significance and its vibrant contribution to society. Although the play is set in the politically troublesome 80’s when extreme racial and homophobic tensions abounded and social panic about AIDS escalated, it is highly topical now as we see LGBT venues closing in London and clubbing losing its appeal.
The show’s directors, Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty (Inky Cloak) together with choreographer Mina Aidoo have succeeded in producing text and choreography that complement each other. Both possess an easy naturalness, accessibility and fluidity which is also facilitated by the cross- shaped stage and multiple performance spaces. Language is down-to-earth and subject matter is neither sensationalized nor over sentimentalised, while the characters are realistic.
The narrative through witty monologues by drag performer Brandi, played by Carl Mullaney, sets the scene of the time, the highs and lows experienced by the struggling gay community. She’s an excessive, ridiculous, older Diva and initially a bitch to the younger guys but eventually becomes a nurturing mother figure as well as valid social commentator. Jahvel Hall and Oseloka Obi respectively play friends Michael, an ambitious DJ and earnest student Joseph whose close bond is threatened by ambition, drugs and survival. Dean Graham, as power hungry club promoter Paul, is a duplicitous, lecherous white man who has a weakness for young, black flesh. However he also earns our empathy, as he endeavours to carve out a thriving queer space and deals, like the others have to, with his father’s rejection.
Dancers Jordan Ajadi and Shawn Willis provide the physical depiction of black, gay sexuality. Their seamless morphing of a variety of dance styles from the day, contemporary dance, voguing, disco ballroom and aerobics display incredible aptitude and versatility. While they are projected, sometimes reductively as explicit bodies to be consumed, they drive the show with their effortless and unashamed eroticism. Aidoo prevents the choreography from becoming too commercial or stereotypical through her blending of athletic dance steps, unusual postures and lifts. When we recognise a style, such as voguing, it quickly transforms into another move from a different style. There’s something refreshingly unpredictable about it but it’s a pity there isn’t more interaction between actors and dancers, as they do seem quite separate.
Music reflects the disco of the day and its evolution into House music, and we remember the likes of Tony de Vitt and Frankie Knuckles. Just like the choreography, it’s a clever collage of recognisable, tantalising extracts by Xana. All that’s missing I feel, is a live DJ on the decks throughout the performance.
We Raise Out Hands In The Sanctuary celebrates and revitalises an incredible time but while it reminds us about how far the LGBT community has come, it also warns us about the serious threats to its continuity and development.
31 January – 11 February
£15 (concessions available)
Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.