Wednesday, May 20, 2015

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - Review - People's Theatre

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
People's Theatre
19th May 2015

1930s America. LA. The land of opportunity. The place where dreams can come true. Except the Great Depression is biting hard and people are desperate and starving. They are grasping at straws, no matter how flimsy, just to stay alive, never mind keep their dreams alive. And against this desperation are the unscrupulous racketeers. Feeding off the desperation, the naivety, the need to follow a dream, the need to hope that there is one last break out there that will see them right, get them started on the road out of starvation and soup kitchens.

The Dance Marathon, an endurance event, staged for the entertainment of those who still have money to spend, with the lure of big prize money for those contestants who can stay the course. It draws in people from all over, from all walks of life, but all with one thing in common - the need to win, the need for the thousand dollar prize money to pull them out of the pit and set them on their true course, the need to realise their dream. And in LA the dream is the silver screen. Hollywood with it bright stars and glittering careers. An actress could get spotted by a film-maker. A young producer could get the funding for his first film. All they have to do is dance, and not stop.

The marathon is a cruel and gruelling event and the play is unrelenting in the portrayal of the hardships that the contestants must endure, not just the physical endurance but the mental and emotional. They start off hopeful and enthusiastic, but as the days wear on exhaustion takes hold, tension builds and tempers fray. We learn about the characters of the dancers - their backgrounds and their motivations. Everyone has a story: some are more honest than others.

The set is a perfect depiction of a run down dance hall, complete with glitterball and live band playing. There are no scene changes - all the action happens in this one space as we watch each couple's hopes and dreams disintegrate as they are manipulated by the MC Rocky Gravo.
This is a powerful production with some excellent performances. It's almost unfair to pick out individuals, but Sarah Scott is outstanding as the tortured Gloria, desperate to get away from her past but knowing that she is never going to make it, Moira Valentine in sharp contrast as the sparky and determined Jackie, and Steve Robson as the obsequious, double dealing, unscrupulous Rocky Gravo, who keeps the story moving and the audience involved.

The only glitch on the first night was a problem with the sound, but to their credit the actors carried on through, and it was soon remedied and forgotten as the audience was drawn into the into the story.
this is an ambitious production - the cast list is 40 strong and most of them are on the stage at once - and it is a harrowing tale, with only the slightest glimmer of hope, but The People's Theatre team have produced a moving and powerful play and deserve full credit.

It plays until Saturday 23rd May, the impression it leaves will last much longer than that. Get down to the theatre to see it, don't wait to be put out of your misery, just remember, they shoot horses...

Denise Sparrowhawk

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