Reviews ManchesterNational Published 15 July 2021

Review: The Global Playground at Manchester International Festival

2-18 July

The revolution will not be made into a dance film: James Varney writes on Theatre Rites’ dance show for young audiences in which the camera takes centre stage.

James Varney
The Global Playground at Manchester International Festival. Design, Ingrid Hu; lighting design, Guy Hoare. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

The Global Playground at Manchester International Festival. Design, Ingrid Hu; lighting design, Guy Hoare. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Notes on the anarchist utopia proposed by The Global Playground

  • The Global Playground doesn’t begin from a place of headlessness. Rather, the authority which is presented to us at the beginning is dissolved. The language of theatre/storytelling sets us up to expect that the person introducing the show is our emcee – maybe this is reassuring; someone is in control, someone knows what’s going on: there is a plan.

    • What The Global Playground does very smartly is present authority and the will to control as a kind of anxiety. Sean meets us at the head of the show and declares that we must be here to watch the filming of the show. His camera/child is full of sporadic outbursts and spontaneous movements and Sean’s attempts to control and manage it (whether from a place of care or not) come off as overbearing and overcautious, stifling.

  • The show is disintegrating – at least from Sean’s perspective – and while he rushes to stick to the plan, more liquid, responsive solutions manifest around him.

    • As the dancers arrive and their timeslots overlap, rather than deferring to Sean’s distracted and rigid management, they collaborate with each other, respond to and blend their movement styles. Sean’s segmented, sequential plan is gone.

    • They seize the camera and the eye of the show is juggled – authority is tossed around and shared and this is a source of joy in opposition to control.

    • This joy is then vindicated at the show’s end – because although Sean’s plan has not been followed, a film has been made, which they are all proud of.

  • Film means something different this year. Even since this time last year, the act of filming yourself, streaming yourself for contact with others, has become a different part of the fabric of our lives. It’s symbolic of an obstacle as much as it is a tool for connection. Dancer Thulani calls in from South Africa, but the footage skips and disintegrates – at our end, Kennedy cannot dance with him, it’s all too much of a mess.

    • ‘Global’, for The Global Playground is not a matter of states and borders, but of distance. If someone is far away, the only thing keeping them from us is distance, possibly internet speeds.

    • In the context of an ‘International Festival’ – where are we? Are we in the world, or are we outside of it? ‘Global’ is a wholly different word to ‘International’ isn’t it? Because to be international demands nations and demands by extension, borders. The Global Playground proposes a space outside, or at least in opposition to, the nation state. Everyone is from somewhere, but they’re from some physical place on this football of a planet – not spun from some dream of nationhood but just from a location somewhere.

  • HOWEVER, however, the Box does come in the post. The Box comes in the post maybe a third of the way through the show and with it comes with a note that announces the ‘funders’ of the show have decided to grant it extra funding, with one condition. They must include the puppet inside the box in the production.

    • So then, we are not outside the world. We are within a bubble, and the material of the bubble is maintained by the funding which comes from a faceless body of ‘funders’ – funders whose whims are arbitrary and unquestionable.

    • Well then, no anarchism at all, actually. A bubble of agency within the framework of ‘We must make a film, we must make a show’. This global place is a bubble inside the international.

      • Because we are inside the International Festival. We are still here, whatever dreams we are dreaming.

  • The puppet himself doesn’t know how he got there.

    • ‘Manchester looks industrial,’ he says, as he is shown around. He is out of control, too. He had no knowledge of the plan, but he is here now.

    • Though actually his will to defy authority is just as strong as the dancers. He, too pushes for freedom from a schedule. He insists he is not a dancer, but when given an opportunity, he takes it. He lives only when he is on someone else’s arm – perhaps the precarity of his existence is in some way the cause of his flexibility. When you are barely alive every day, you must take your chances when you can and you must trust in the kindness and experience of others.

    • Revolution also cannot be possible if you rely on a puppeteer to stay conscious.

  • The dragon appears during a moment of collapse. I don’t know the name of the equipment they use to puppeteer it. It is made of a sort of extendable metal armature at least twelve feet long. Its head stares around – perhaps a camera. Camera’s eyes are front-mounted; they must be predators.

    • The dragon appears while the dancers are tearing apart the reflectors mounted around the stage. Once a diffusing membrane is removed, the reflectors and lights can be worn like shirts, shuffled about in like they are protective shells.

    • The dragon is an opportunist hunter. It has sensed a lapse in the natural order and like a disaster capitalist it is here to eat what it can.

    • There is, however, nothing of real meat or interest for it, it slinks away. Correctly dismantled, the film set is no longer even edible to the former parasites of capitalism. The new model cannot be exploited; the dragon will starve.

  • If The Global Playground proposes a model of an anarchist future in its show about making a dance film for audiences of eight and up, I wonder about the strength of the bubble they have made.

    • The show contains its own parody – its characters are at the mercy of funders, and are at the mercy of ideology, in that they must, must, make a show. There has to be a product at the end of it – in the form of the film which they make and in the form of the show which we watch.

    • Even if the message of the final product is to point gently at the common thread that they all grew to be here, they all were young and loved something and now they are doing it together for us. Even if that is the message, the message had to be made and had to be finished, did it? Is that where they are? Or is that just an illusion caused by a show needing a finite ending?

    • If the show ending creates that illusion, creates the implication of a moral and a narrative journey, would a show which never ended solve that problem? And would a show which never ended be a ‘show’? And if the revolution comes, will it come once, and have an ending too?

The Global Playground runs at Manchester International Festival until 18 July, as well as online on demand. More info here.


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: The Global Playground at Manchester International Festival Show Info

Directed by Sue Buckmaster

Choreography by Gregory Maqoma

Cast includes Jahmarley Bachelor, Thulani Chauke, Annie Edwards, Sean Garratt, Merlin Jones, Kennedy Junior Muntanga, Charmene Pang

Original Music Ayanna Witter-Johnson



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.