Dir. Drew Taylor, The Arches, 2nd-5th July
Ah-Amazing, Ah-Ah-Amazing, Ah-Amazing, Ah-Ah-Amazing.
There are very few words to describe 44 Stories other than those that open the show in the electric tones of Hi Fashion’s Amazing. Presented as part of The Arches’ Culture 2014, the show gives us exactly what it says: 44 stories, taken from the 44 countries participating in the Commonwealth Games where homosexuality is illegal. It’s a grim, heartbreaking and incredibly serious subject matter, but 44 Stories doesn’t for a single moment do anything less than entertain and engage its audience. It is one of the strongest examples of political theatre seen around Glasgow this theatre season.
The atmosphere as you enter feels like that of a burlesque club or a speakeasy, with the four performers all stretching, warming up, dancing and pacing around a stage which is littered with costume, staring down their audience. It’s hard not to stare back at the beautifully costumed performers, each striking in their own unique way and each dripping with a stage presence and charisma that only builds throughout the show. No one actor outshines another; they are all uniquely fantastic.
The stories are told through a whirlwind mixture of theatrical styles, and it does feel like a cabaret, yet behind the costumes and the music is a wall. This, covered in country names, signs and photos, constantly reminds the audience of the darkness behind this piece and the danger faced by many living in countries where who they are and who they love can end their lives. We are incredibly lucky to live in a country where this performance can be made and shared, a thought which only furthers the dangers faced by others, and how much still needs to be done to achieve equality. Throughout the show the wall is added to and the scale of the problem only seems bigger and bigger.
The strongest execution of this political message blending perfectly with entertainment comes in the dance pieces, mixing contemporary, ballet, hip hop, twerking among many other styles to capture an atmosphere, an individual story, or the weight of an entire nation’s struggle. With music, dancing, costume, graffiti, art, storytelling and power, 44 Stories is not to be missed or forgotten. Neither its message nor its opening number will leave your head for weeks afterwards, which is, one can only assume, exactly what Drew Taylor and his cast hoped to achieve.