THEATRE | Dinner 18:55 at Leeds Playhouse

Opening last night and running for just two performances today, DINNER 18:55 at LEEDS PLAYHOUSE POP-UP SPACE defies genre in bringing older and younger performers together on stage to show what unites us across the generation gap. RICHARD HORSMAN reports:

Part Stomp!, part reality TV confessional and part contemporary dance, Dinner 18:55 continues the Leeds Playhouse strand of community-based ensemble work which brought us last year’s Searching for the Heart of Leeds.

Although this is a smaller scale production, it demonstrates the same commitment to storytelling in an authentic Leeds voice, the dialogue captured and performed by a community cast quite literally being themselves.

The show starts with a simple premise. What happens if you bring a diverse group together in a rehearsal space and get them talking, sharing memories and learning to trust each other through exercises devised to build trust and intimacy?

The result, under Maggie De Ruyck’s direction, is a heartfelt celebration of emotions all tied around the rituals of mealtimes. The clinking of crockery and cutlery is central to the show, stylised into percussive performance with rhythms, mood and pattern varied between scenes.

What’s particularly moving is to see the interaction between the young performers (“so much energy!”, one of the seniors remarks wistfully) and the older members of the cast as they act out scenes such as an exercise of being each other’s reflections in a mirror, hand movements co-ordinated in an elaborate dance of follow-my-leader.

There are monologues from old and young on subjects such as loneliness, what’s meant by success, and the heartbreak of being disowned by family. The raw power of these narratives drew spontaneous applause from the first night audience.

These moments of high emotion are offset by lighter anecdotes .. including one family’s unorthodox bodily preparations for the excesses of the festive season.

Special mention is also due for composer Christella Litras and Sound Designer Charlotte Bickley; as with the Playhouse’s recent production of Kes, the soundscape in the Playhouse pop-up auditorium adds greatly to the action on stage, particularly in the dance and movement sequences where stories are acted out without words.

The cast of eighteen includes participants from Leeds Playhouse’s Older People’s Programme and the parallel Youth Programme, and it’s a true ensemble piece; each performer gets a moment in the spotlight, but the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts as those on stage physically and emotionally support each other through the piece.

Speaking during rehearsals, older performer Pat White felt she’d gained a lot from the experience.

“Nowadays I tend to attend daytime classes and social activities mixing almost exclusively with other retired people. she said.

“Working with much younger people has been exhilarating and great fun. We all get on so well”

At the other end of the age spectrum, performer Mima Wells is also enthusiastic about taking part.

I’ve learnt so much about the elder generation and they’ve taught me so much about myself too; to be confident in myself, to have a bit of fun and no matter what…to keep dancing!’

The Playhouse’s Creative Engagement department works with over ten thousand people every year, using theatre to explore ideas about difference and togetherness through creative projects, including the ground-breaking Every Third Minute festival of theatre, dementia and hope which ran in spring 2018.

Dinner 18:55 is performed TODAY ONLY for two performances in the Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre at 3.00pm and at 7.30pm. Tickets are just £6

Photography: Anthony Robling & Nick Singleton