First instruction: Look at us while we look at you.
Second instruction: Imagine that you know what other people are thinking.
Third instruction: Lose yourself in the chaos.
Fourth instruction: Decide where you stand.
Fifth instruction: Try to make sense of it all.
These instructions come up one by one on a dot matrix display above the "stage" (which is essentially just the shop floor of a modern warehouse and feels like an indoor basketball court; vast and complete with the noise of squeaky trainers), typed in by Lisa and Sonia (the third instruction with the addition of: "Can we join in?"), and interpreted first by us then by the performers.
This is Quarantine theatre company's production Summer, the first of four parts of a larger, three-year-long project about the human life cycle and our relationship with change. Autumn looks at the older generation, Winter deals with death, while Spring, I'm told, is about birth. Summer encompasses all age groups, from the tiniest tots upwards, and, despite the voluminous setting and extensive cast, does have an inclusive and intimate feel to it - with a very personal introduction to some of the actors (all amateur), quizzed via a PA system by a lady at the top of the raked seating behind me. It also feels cyclical, taking the audience on a very circular journey, and ending in the same way it starts, with a vocal unpacking of thoughts and feelings from the players (different ones for each performance). In between, most of the narrative is told silently, through actions such as posing, as if for wedding photographs, in delineated groupings (for example, all the men, all the women, all the children, then different sub-sets of these - the Venn diagrams of social and familial categories, if you like), and a physical unpacking of life from holiday suitcases - not just T-shirts, beach towels and shower scrubs of all colours, but also violins, Anthony Horowitz thrillers, family portraits, even a glitter ball.
Dance and movement is important for telling the Summer story - at one point, most of the cast stands still and responds to instruction number two while some others start running around; at another point, we watch everyone partying together while each individual also does their own thing. There are streamers, balloons, feathers, confetti… there is Mister Blue Sky by ELO, Take It Easy by The Eagles, a song by Led Zeppelin, Feel The Need In Me. There's a lot of joy in the show, but there's also a fair amount of sorrow; one part involving the use of microphones to amplify the actors' voices feels slightly one-way and a bit too emotional, especially when we've almost got used to a lack of dialogue. Having said that, all that on-stage fun would be a bit frivolous without some depth. I also suppose it's easier to invest personally in the show because we know that these are real people telling real stories, not just actors reciting a script. A vibrant production with clever direction: I look forward to the changing of the seasons.
Summer took place in Salford in June 2014. Autumn takes place in Newcastle in September 2015. Winter takes place in Cardiff in December 2015. Spring takes place in Manchester in May 2016.