Blending dance, puppetry and play, the new piece by Theatre-Rites is fun and mischievous, but not strong enough to hold the attention of its young audience continuously. To keep the energy up, The Global Playground could do with a trim, a stricter structure, and more of the joyous silliness it displays in small snippets.
Seated around a circular stage, we’re here to watch the company film their new dance show. Sean Garratt shows us the ropes, naming the camera equipment and explaining how it all works. As the dancers arrive, it becomes clear someone else should have been left in charge. Garratt’s character is haphazard and unintentionally disrespectful. So focused on making the film, he forgets about the people he’s making it with.
The problem is that all the lulls and frustrations feel real, and we spend a lot of time waiting around. When it all eventually kicks off, the performers are warm and energetic. While Garratt’s distracted, Jahmarley Bachelor, Annie Edwards, Kennedy Junior Muntanga and Charmene Pang play with the elements of film on stage, climbing into lights and launching into contemporary dance battles. One beautiful scene plays out as they twirl under, around and through a giant light reflector.
The best bits happen when the silliness is fully unleashed. Garratt tries to set up a flopping tripod, but when he moves it, the dancers echo, skidding and crashing across the stage. The arrival of bright orange puppet Terry brings more chaos and comedy. Cheery and cheeky, the orange scruff takes charge, directing the others, learning how to dance, and performing a song, allowing Garratt to display some impressive ventriloquism. Merlin Jones’s djembe drumming brings an extra dose of energy.
But as a whole, it doesn’t hold together. Supposedly about our relationships to screens and each other, The Global Playground can’t figure out what it wants to say. In one scene, the camera is a cheeky member of the team, playfully teasing the director. In another, it is a predatory wolf, prowling the stage for victims. Engaging in themselves, these scenes feel more like exercises to create stories from objects, rather than part of a larger story.
The Global Playground is at Great Northern Warehouse, Manchester, until 18 July as part of Manchester international festival. Also available online.