Tuesday, 7 February 2017

REVIEW: We Raise Our Hands In the Sanctuary at The Albany

We are in the early 1980's and the LGBT crowd is becoming more open and unashamed but social acceptance is far from being a reality and AIDS is considered a gay plague. It is during these years that the clubbing scene becomes the platform where gay people can express themselves and music is their first language. Particularly within the black community, homosexuality receives a strenuous opposition, starting from the family, and this discrimination adds up to a more generalised racism. 

First developed with the support of the Albany Theatre's Hatched new writing programme, We Raise Our Hands In the Sanctuary tells a story of struggle with inclusion, employment and self-establishment, where friendship oscillates between convinced brotherhood and crude opportunism. Part drama and part cabaret, it witnesses the raise to fame of DJ Michael (Jahvel Hall), inseparable from his mate and future business partner Joseph (Oseloka Obi), a trainee stage electrician. Employed by club promoter Paul (Dean Graham) and lead (or mislead) by the extravagant drag performer Brandi (Carl Mullaney), the two friends are called throughout the 1980's to face the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and their relationship won't remain unscathed.

In this play by Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty, the importance of night clubs as a place for gay people to gather and foster new forms of defiance is well-represented but all the good ideas are overshadowed by a lengthy script and its patchy execution. A two-hour show where the depiction of some substantial problems drowns in unimaginative dialogues could benefit from some condensing. The result would certainly be a poignant social cry that raises awareness on the under-represented condition of black gay people and their attempt to overcome social opposition.

As a complement to the numbers of the divine Brandi, Jordan Ajadi and Shawn Willis deserve a special mention for their exquisite dance sketches. Thanks to Mina Aidoos's smooth choreography, they surpass any rhetoric and show on stage all the sensual beauty of two young bodies that silently manifest mutual love. This must be the most accomplished aspect of We Raise Our Hands In the Sanctuary and I couldn't get enough of watching the two performers, whether together or in solo routines.

The set, designed by Ingrid Hu, is an interesting collection of elementary shapes and
primary colours positioned at different levels to suggest the change of scenes and settings. Whereas the evocative musical choices are courtesy of Xana and Martin Moriarty.

We Raise Our Hands In the Sanctuary is ultimately a tribute to the 1980's clubbing scene and an exploration of sexuality, masculinity and race. Despite requiring some further polishing, it has all the attributes of an original and ground-breaking piece of theatre, thanks to the unmissable contribution of quality disco music and excellent physical performance.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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