THE DUG OUT – What’s On Stage - Hannah Sweetnam - Five stars *****
Beginning with the sound of a siren and the tuning of a stereo playing 1970's classics, The Dug Out is an authentic and original play written by Amanda Whittington, detailing the goings-on in Bristol's iconic and multicultural nightclub of the same name. Directed by Kath Rogers for Splice Theatre, the Tobacco Factory is the perfect venue for such a performance. They even managed to salvage the original sign from the club itself, to embellish the already superb set.
Attending the performance with a regular to the beloved venue, during the 70's is one of the best decisions I could have made and it gives a whole new light to just how accurate the performance is. Sat in the round, set and costume designer, Halla Groves-Raines transforms Bristol's most adaptable theatre into the Dug Out, as it was in 1974, when an IRA bomb exploded on Park Street. Even the furniture is spot on!
Laced with decade relevant jokes about C&A and The Exorcist, the play intertwines a separate story into that of the 1974 bombing. Set three decades previously, in 1944, a black GI was shot on Park Street by American Military Police during protests over racial segregation. The play skilfully crosses over the real life events, visualising the peripheral stories of the two ill-fated days, merging choreography across the decades, to fade in and out of each era with ease.
The production manages to strike a perfect balance, telling a story and yet nothing momentous actually happening. The stories are moderately paced and merely showcase the activities of young people, from all backgrounds, whilst hidden away from danger in the very same underground site, decades apart. The performance delves in to the issues faced by the diverse characters as they attempt to understand themselves, let alone each other, and raises topics such as race, gender, social class and sexuality.
The lead cast of eight has fantastic chemistry and each performer has standout moments, whether it is Hamilton Lee as Gloria, who used to go by the name Kevin, or Cate Cammack as Rita, the 19-year-old British WAAF from Pucklechurch. However, my favourite performances come from Natasha Pring, playing Rae, the right-on, empowered female pacifist who, Leo quite rightly points out, is "always fighting" and Annette Chown, as Holly, the mainstream, lesbian, party animal, who likes to stir up trouble.
At times the performers' Bristolian accents do waver a tad, but there are so many other fantastic elements to the performance that this barely matters. A clear attention to detail is made throughout the whole performance and this accuracy is what makes an already enjoyable enactment so exquisite.
DJ Kinsman provides a spectacular soundtrack of ska, reggae, funk and soul tunes, from Derrick Morgan's ‘Stand By Me' to ‘Israelites' by Desmond Dekker intermixed with jive and swing classics from the 1940s, such as Cab Calloway, ‘Hotcha Razz-Ma-Tazz' and Buddy Johnson's ‘You won't let me go'.
Oscar Anderson's choreography is pleasingly truthful to young dancers in the 1970's and 1940's. A mention must also be made here to Damson Idris as Leo, the bubbly barman, who's dancing is just sublime.
I personally have never attended the Dug Out but it is clear that the audience members who used to attend the club are left feeling extremely nostalgic. One thing I can say for definite, is that whether you have experienced The Dug Out or not, the production is a fantastic look at the fight for equality, made in a truly entertaining and enjoyable manner and is definitely one to watch.