How To Be Better – Contact, Manchester

16 Dec

Stop procrastinating.

Also, stop overthinking everything.

Get my house on the market. (Reality: Tidy my yard, fix that kitchen shelf, get a plumber in, replace the back door, clear the cellar, etc, etc – in order to get house on the market)

Come up with a five-year plan.

Stop caring that I just turned THIRTY-FUCKING-NINE. Sorry. <Breath>. 39.

Achieve perfection in all aspects of life, or else consider it a failure.

During How To Be Better, I start thinking of these things (and more) and I hear Contact Young Company express some of the ways they think they could be better and I worry that they even have these worries. I feel tense thinking about their university fees and how the hell they’ll pay them back; their benefits, their non-minimum wage jobs, and the lack of opportunities.

How To Be Better is a lot different in format from the fantastic site-specific summer show, The Shrine of Everyday Things (read my review), but there are also similarities. Where Shrine ended on a punch-the-air celebratory note, How To Be Better has a party-like atmosphere, a Beyoncé style dance routine (join in if you like, and don’t if you don’t). There’s also a sense of discovery for both performers and audience through playing games (I’m reminded of insightful work I’ve seen in the last year or so from companies like Secret Theatre and Barrel Organ). Where Shrine took small groups round a series of scenes in a very structured way, How To Be Better is more free in its formation – while still promenade theatre (I love how Victorian that always sounds to me) you might enter in a group of three, but you can wander off and look at Russ Henry’s fascinating mind-map design in the familiar theatre of Space 1 and re-join another group, or even find yourself alone and rescued by a one-to-one chat.

So, while early on I feel stiff with worry for the future some young people have – and older people, and me included – that’s not how I end the hour. Because here they are. Here are their worries, but here too are some of the ways they think they, and we the wider community, can face them. Not giving in, but creating changes, big and small. Not just learning someone else’s words and acting out a role. Here they are on a stage, being a version of themselves. Here they are, developing a show with seasoned and award winning performers and producers (poet/writer/actor Ben Mellor, super theatre makers Common Wealth who brought No Guts, No Heart, No Glory to a boxing gym in Moss Side for Contact. And others). Quickly creating connections with strangers. Here they are, already being better and making a room full of people give serious reflection about how much better – or different – they might want their lives to be.

Be kinder to myself.

Tell the people I love that I love them.

Learn to love – or at least tolerate – networking events, or meeting new people generally.

Write about what I see at the theatre right after seeing it, whether that’s a review or just banging out some kind of a reaction. (TICK!)

Realise that better is an entirely personal and subjective measure, and that ‘better’ doesn’t mean ‘perfect’.


Reviewed on 16 December.

How To Be Better runs at Contact, Manchester until Saturday 19 December 2015.

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