Learning-disabled and neurodivergent performers from the Not Your Circus Dog collective treated Manchester to a rowdy evening of unapologetic cabaret, eliciting laughs alongside a thought-provoking narrative. It was a show that will doubtless stay with me for years.
A handful of green tokens was given to each audience member as they walked into the theatre. The cast evoked a laugh by joking that the tokens had been stolen from the charity box in Waitrose. These tokens were then to be put in buckets corresponding to each cast member according to who you enjoyed most; Adam Smith and DJ Hassan, with their infectious joy and radiating energy, won over my tokens. They then called into question their estimated value by asking a disturbing question: “is this all we are worth to you?” It was a moment symptomatic of the show’s frequent balancing act between the gleeful and the tragic.
Each person brought something completely different to the room. DJ Hassan’s unadulterated love for life, Emma Selwyn’s rage at institutionalised injustice, Stephanie Newman’s rebellious passion, and Adam Smith’s cheeky sexual fervour mixed to create a company that was truly unique and captivating. The thing that united this cast, and humbled me, was their utter fearlessness. They swore like sailors, disclosed their sexual fantasies, and stripped to their underwear. Emma Selwyn’s bra straps continuously falling gave me powerful anxiety but, to their credit, they never missed a beat.
My favourite comedic moment was the re-enactment of the popular show Countdown. Adam stood holding a placard around his neck while the DJ invited volunteers from the audience to pick vowels or consonants. Hilariously, he paid no attention to the letter being requested and spelt out pre-planned words. Audience participation is a theatre trope that I am less than keen on usually, with this show being no exception.
People were volunteered by the cast on occasion and I appreciated the compassion that Adam Smith showed when one woman declined. Despite this, I thought in a performance that promised a relaxed environment, members of the audience should be encouraged to put themselves forward. I was certainly glad that I wasn’t chosen.
Contrasts between comedy and hard-hitting moments were strong. The Countdown game took a very dark turn as the letters were shown to first spell out “Twat”, then “Eugenics” and finally a slur used against disabled people. Combining the cheery atmosphere with the obvious emotional reaction of the performers to this word created a powerful, sobering moment as the audience fell silent.
Emma Selwyn delivered another incredibly compelling moment. The cast listed victims of Covid (22,000) and discussed how many were given “Do Not Resuscitate” orders without their permission. The accusatory tone and raw grief emanating through the room was hugely moving and made me reassess the state of our country.
However, I would have liked to have had more time to process this moving monologue before the show moved on. I found this was a frequent issue for me as the show didn’t have clear continuity and often jumped from one juncture to another too quickly. As the performance only lasted an hour, this problem is unsurprising. Nevertheless, I felt that some of the comedy could have been cut down to accommodate the more poignant moments.
Overall, much praise should be given to these four performers for their candour and outright bravery in baring their souls to the audience. They all bowed in their underwear, completely stripped of both clothes and emotional walls, having given so much of themselves to us. It was a dedication to their art which required a confidence I am very jealous of. Everyone should see this show, for the exuberance the cast radiate and the clear and unwavering message of personal identity they sent.