We Should Definitely Have More Dancing

Suzanna Hamilton, Clara Darcy and Shamia Chalabi. Credit Joel Chester Fildes

Review of We Should Definitely Have More Dancing at Oldham Coliseum.

Actor Clara Darcy’s real-life experience with brain cancer forms the basis of We Should Definitely Have More Dancing.  Darcy co-wrote the play with Ian Kershaw, and she takes to the stage to play herself. She’s joined by fellow performers Shamia Chalabi and Suzanna Hamilton who play versions of Clara, as well as other characters within the show.

If this all sounds a bit meta, something which the play disarmingly acknowledges at one point, then prepare for depictions of a rehearsal for the production, and a debate among the actors about the truthfulness of the writing. Holby City with a whiff of greasepaint this is not.

Also – you might want to park any expectations that a show about a young woman finding out that there’s a tumour as big as a fist nestling in her brain is going to be heavy-going

What is startling about the play, is not the life-changing moment of diagnosis part-way through, but that its default setting is deliberately upbeat – as much a story about life as one close encounter with mortality.

Directors Tatty Hennessy and Raz Shaw craft an unashamedly theatrical production, which really suits the play’s shape-shifting approach. A big hospital bed-style curtain curves around the three sides of the stage, enclosing the actors within its folds. Otherwise, things are a bit sparse, with the sort of utilitarian chairs that look as much at home in a rehearsal space as they do in a hospital waiting area, and there’s a props table on full display.

That curtain is used to good effect – parting slightly to frame a pivotal inner dialogue, swaying woozily as a backdrop to Darcy’s anaesthetised dreams, or drawn right back to reveal a stark empty stage. A pick and mix of children’s toys are arranged within the grid of the props table, and the incorporation of them into the storytelling is an inspired touch.

As Darcy undergoes an MRI scan, a red and white spotted wellington boot stands in for a medical tube in her hand, and a yellow rubber duck represents the alarm button she must press if feeling distressed. Similarly, a trail of bubbles blown from a blue and orange toy gun symbolise a burst of proton-beam therapy. Not just cheerful and playful pops of colour, those silly, slightly absurd little props wink at us reassuringly, lightening the emotional load at key points.

Darcy and Kershaw’s writing travels light – concise and good-humoured, but also thoughtful, it covers a lot of ground. Viewed through the lens of her recent experience, Darcy’s journey to that point is pieced together. Surprise beginnings (“the world’s worse advert for the coil”), through childhood accidents and family in-jokes, to nights out with friends and unfulfilled romantic promises. Unsurprisingly, there are a few regrets, but also now a shift in priorities for the future.

Well-chosen stories and details bind you to the life being described. Darcy’s amusement that the doctor that she sees when turning up at A&E in search of answers is called Alexa. Or her realisation, on walks out with her father post-treatment, that she is learning to walk again on the very streets where she took her first steps as a child. All those quirky, touching, funny, sad memories bring depth of character to the script. However, knowing as we do that they have sprung forth from Darcy’s brain, they also feel precious – a glimpse into a “complete universe” once threatened by a fist-sized invader.

Alongside Darcy, who somehow manages to navigate delivering a performance while being herself, Hamilton brings a satisfying sense of calm and reassurance to the roles she plays, while Chalabi’s skillful comic timing feels especially welcome.

I’d been warned to bring tissues, but in truth they weren’t needed. As the closing monologue notes, it is a play that will affect everyone differently depending on their own experiences.

Life is short and we should make the most of it may not be the most revelatory of messages with which to underpin a play – and it’s something that the script is well aware of, referring to such talk as “all the clichés” – but that doesn’t make it any less true.

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing is a full-hearted celebration of life that generously reminds us all to make the most of here and now.

Oldham Coliseum 

Performance seen on 21 June 2022.

We Should Definitely Have More Dancing runs at Oldham Coliseum from 17 June 2022 to 2 July 2022.

Then touring at:
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – 12 & 13 July 2022
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – 25 to 28 July 2022
Assembly George Square Studios, Edinburgh Fringe Festival – 3 to 18 August 2022

Images by Joel Chester Fildes

Clara Darcy. Credit Joel Chester Fildes(4)

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