Reviews Brighton Published 30 November 2014

Be Here Now

Brighton Dome ⋄ 28th November 2014

The potency of pop.

Tracey Sinclair

There’s a degree of irony in a show that seeks to recapture the social awkwardness of youth being best catered to those who are confident enough not to have ever been plagued by that affliction. Audience participation by its nature is divisive – it requires a certain temperament to enjoy being forced to interact with the performers, and Toot’s Be Here Now is a piece that is packed to the brim with tasks for us to undertake.

Whether it’s getting up on stage to be serenaded to the soundtrack of our youthful crushes, being extras in a party scene or even playing the smitten husband in the first dance at a wedding, it’s not an evening for the shy and retiring. Unfortunately, I fall squarely into the ‘please don’t make me do anything’ camp, so my enjoyment of what is an unarguably likeable show was somewhat hampered by being in the grip of a full-body cringe as I desperately sought to remain unnoticed. So, in one way it was definitely successful: in the sense that I spent the evening crippled by anxiety and convinced everyone was having a better time than me, it really did remind me of the parties of my teenage years.

Not that there wasn’t much to enjoy about this aural trip down memory lane. The nineties were a seminal time in my life, and judging from the laughter and murmurs of recognition from the audience every time a new prop appeared or a band name was mentioned, most of them fell into this category as well. From mini-discs to Walkmans to Levellers-style stripey jumpers and bottles of Hooch, the piece was littered with the touchstones of memory that vividly evoked that particular era.

Lacking much in the way of narrative, it was more an impressionistic look at music and memory, and how they are inextricably linked; how despite its cultural prevalence, we somehow make pop personal. It recalled a time when listening to records in your bedroom was a blessed refuge from a confusing and often hostile world and only singers really understood you; the role music played in choosing (and impressing) friends or potential dates and in narrating the stories we were too inarticulate to tell. At the same time, the piece warns us of the dangers of such nostalgia: of rewriting a romance in retrospect, of confusing affection for simpler times with a longing for the person you shared them with.

Not all of it works – it’s inventive and ambitious, yes, but they throw in an awful lots of tricks and some fall flat. A segment where we are all encouraged to close our eyes as items are passed round the room to a Roberta Flack song– recalling a past crush – goes on far too long and, frankly, one of the reasons I stopped going to parties was so I no longer had to fumble with strangers in the dark and worry about what was being shoved into my hands. But there are others that are beautifully realised: a forensic analysis of a mix-tape manages to both capture and skewer the idealistic clichés of the young, and their pretensions at specialness (‘I put Tori Amos on to show that I’m sensitive!’), while being genuinely tender and moving. A scene of sexual awakening – as a teen boy realises he is less interested in advice about how to win a girl than he is in the boy who is dispensing it – is both sweet and believably awkward. In a smart use of our participation, audience-captured mobile phone footage of that wedding dance is used to remind a wife that the reality of a marriage is more valuable than the romanticised rekindling of an old love.

Toot are a trio of performers / directors (Stuart Barker, Clare Dunn and Terry O’Donovan) and a producer (Faith Dodkins) and the slick chemistry of a practised team is obvious in this production. But for all their amiability – which, at times, felt like the slightly forced jollity of children’s TV presenters – it was these raw moments of honesty that shone, that reminded there is nothing quite so potent as disposable pop.

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Tracey Sinclair

Tracey Sinclair is a freelance editor and writer, a published author and performed playwright. She writes for a number of print and online magazines and most recently has focused on the Dark Dates series of books, including A Vampire in Edinburgh. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal

Be Here Now Show Info


Produced by Toot

Link http://brightondome.org/event/6113/toot_be_here_now/

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