Reviews ManchesterNational Published 22 October 2020

Review: Don’t Go Back to Sleep: The Lockdown Album at HOME, Manchester

21-24 October

Covid culture: James Varney explores the new ways we engage with performance via RashDash’s documentary album, listened to from home.

James Varney
RashDash's Don't Go Back to Sleep: The Lockdown Album at HOME, Manchester. Photo: Sebastian Hinds.

RashDash’s Don’t Go Back to Sleep: The Lockdown Album at HOME, Manchester. Photo: Sebastian Hinds.

The theatre is trying to pull me back. As if nothing has changed, the press release comes into my inbox and my editor follows up to see if I can cover the show. I can go to HOME on Wednesday and watch a performance with strangers in a dark room as if nothing has changed. Our seats will be further apart, there will not be the same bustle at the bar, but almost nothing has changed. As if nothing has changed I can go, leave the house, but I don’t.

It’s unusual I can do this, but half the title of this show is The Lockdown Album and the show’s music is on Spotify so I ask if I can do an album review instead. And yes, that’s fine. It’s unusual I can do this – the other shows in HOME’s new season don’t have albums online so I’ll see nothing of them.

I don’t want to be in a room with strangers; I’ve not been watching the online shows that have popped up all over the place. If I’ve been missing theatre (which I might have been – there have been other things on my mind) then I’ve not sought out whatever an online version of a show is.

Rather than leave my house and sit in an altered theatre I contact an old friend and suggest we listen to the album together over video chat. They agree.-

I associate RashDash with physicality. In the work of theirs I’ve seen before, the music they perform and the movement they use isn’t ‘just’ music or movement because it’s combined. The music is a comment on the movement and vice versa. The theatre happens because neither music nor dance is comfortable – something critical happens when we watch them live together, they unsettle each other and unsettle us and we have to see things we wouldn’t if the music and dance were separate.

Not that music or dance are ever ‘just’ music or dance but my point is, if you like, that theatre is the performance, but also the process of putting the performance there. A machine, split open, the shimmering innards on display as part of its function.

And then my point is that the visual aspect of that is taken away.

So what my friend and I have instead of choreographed movement is each other’s nodding heads. Now our ‘comment’ on the music, to unsettle us and made us think about where we are sitting, is each other. And you got that with theatre in precedented times because I’d go with friends and we’d talk about the show before and after and yes there was always a kind of intimacy in the exercise but now that intimacy is the show. I’ve turned this review, this job, into a chance to hang out with an old friend. Theatre is a good excuse for seeing friends. And seeing friends is a good excuse for theatre.-

Don’t Go Back to Sleep is as much the framing of a piece of research as it is an album. It has frequent interludes which are extracts from recorded interviews, and the words from these recordings find their way into track lyrics and the two merge back and forth, audio record interrupting musical response and vice versa.

This pandemic has not just been happening to us. We have been creating a culture out of the coronavirus at the same speed as it has been infecting people. The pandemic is literal, material things and it is also the music, conversations, video calls and walks we have performed to process it. It has infected us and we have learned it and fashioned it in our own imagination. As if nothing has changed we have turned to the things we know how to do to help us understand the distance that has grown between now and normal.

We survive and make sense out of things by doing that stuff we call culture and Don’t Go Back to Sleep does this and understands it as it does. The picture it paints of this year is broad, international, intimate and hyperlocal. We hear individual voices, whose experiences are wildly different and frequently overlap – the pandemic is huge and life-changing but also incomparably minor in rich countries compared to poor. It’s an opportunity to overturn our economic systems and it’s an opportunity to get to know your parents better. It’s a source of anxiety and a source of strange calm.-

I was concerned about missing something. I’m listening to the album as the sun sets with my friend who is about a twenty minute walk away and we’re both drinking beer and hanging out as if nothing has changed. And I don’t miss out on movement because we’re both here. I don’t miss out on comment because we send each other messages while the music is playing. I don’t miss out because we have created something new and different. We have broken theatre. The show starts when we decide, we can talk to each other, we can have toilet breaks when we feel like it, we know how long each track is and we know how far from the end of the show we are at all times. It’s funny that knowing things and having control feel the furthest from how theatre normally works.

It’s small compensation to have control over how we do this. We don’t necessarily hear the music at the exact same time, we press play together but there’s a delay, isn’t there. There’s a distance between the two of us but we are in sync enough. And we agree we ought to do the same thing another time with more albums. Because video calls feel like meetings and feel like work, but music is a good excuse to not say anything.-

And that’s the main reason I go to the theatre isn’t it? To connect with other people? Not like directly with them but indirectly through something we’ve watched together or something they’ve made. And part of why I’m not at the theatre is because the forced separation would be too much. Because I think theatre is a strange, contrived thing in precedented times – more contrivance I don’t see myself dealing with.

And I think part of Don’t Go Back to Sleep is pointing at distance. It doesn’t have solutions or owt but it’s pointing out the scale to which things have changed and the capability with which it has been met to adapt. And the anger with which mismanaging it has been met. And that I dunno we’re living in these fucking awful times but there are a lot of people who agree that the times are fucking awful so maybe that’s a good thing? That at least we’re unhappy with the shitty things. And the small ways in which we’ve found ways of coping might be evidence of a broader capacity to revolt against the shit and make a better world by looking at the distance between this world and the world we want to live in and looking at the distance between us as individuals and the way some of those distances have been reduced by us all being subject to the same massive thing.-

Don’t Go Back to Sleep connects to people. And y’know at least we have culture, at least we have ways of looking at the distance between us, at least. Theatre comes together so quickly compared to other mediums – it’s made out of the present moment because we have to be there, as audiences or whatever. At the end of the album my room is dark, the sun has gone away while we were listening – the lights of houses and tower blocks in front of me are bright rectangles, where presumably there are other people, inside their homes.

Don’t Go Back to Sleep: The Lockdown Album runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 24th October. More info here. The album is available to stream online.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Review: Don’t Go Back to Sleep: The Lockdown Album at HOME, Manchester Show Info

Directed by RashDash

Written by Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, with Nadia Nadarajah, Reuben Johnson and Siobhan Rocks

Cast includes Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen, Becky Wilkie

Original Music Becky Wilkie, Reuben Johnson



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