Venue reviews: Nightclubbing at Norwich Playhouse

Nightclubbing was an emotional performance full of funky futuristic beats, heart-wrenching spoken word poems and astonishing visuals. All 45 minutes of the piece were unpredictable and thrilling to watch. Featuring the tunes of Grace Jones, the performance is centered around black women’s experiences of racism and heteronormativity. The storyline is based on an incident when three black women were refused entry into a London nightclub in 2015, and sound clips of a woman talking about this are sprinkled throughout the performance.

The music and the sound effects were extremely effective in giving the piece a futuristic vibe. Mwen and Leisha Thomas, who both perform on the stage, create a musical experience that transports their audience to a place where time seems to be suspended. Listening to their music and the sounds they created together imparted a sort of out of body experience on the audience. Adding on to the futuristic vibe of the performance were the costumes and the props. Although it was not a prominent part of the piece, the broken television lying at the side of the stage that flickered throughout contributed to a sort of nostalgic, retrospective narrative.

All of this made the three black women on stage appear to be something like supernatural, higher beings. However, the most impressive piece on the stage was definitely the huge, foil-like sheet that Rachael Young, the main performer, put on twice. It was incredibly moving to listen to Young’s spoken word piece about the melanin on her skin making her a ‘light-catcher’ and then watching her emerge from the golden foil-like sheet glowing like a celestial figure. It was a beautifully creative way of combining visuals with poetry, as she made a metaphor literally come to life right in front of our eyes.

The shows use of different art forms to send a message was extremely impressive. One of the most heart-wrenching parts of the show included Young screaming ironic apologies into the mike, such as ‘I’m sorry for Black Panther and Get Out’ and ‘I’m sorry for heteronormativity’, while twirling a hula hoop around her waist. Mwen and Thomas then expertly kept these phrasing running in the background on a loop while creating a swooshing sound that synchronised with the spinning of the hoops. The twirling sounds and the repetition of the phrases got louder and faster until Young collapsed to the floor with a gasp. This section combined acting, poetry, sound and physical movement, all mashed together to create the image of a circulatory, endless, painful narrative of racism and heteronormativity.

There were many spoken word poems that emitted a sense of pride in relation to blackness. They were empowering expressions of love towards a racial identity that is shunned by Western society. The entire performance was unapologetic, brave and bold. Young was incredibly vulnerable in every single minute, which made it easy to connect to the piece. While the lighting made it difficult to watch certain parts of the piece, the costume design and the music transformed the stage into a futuristic platform where a black woman could speak out against racism safely and openly. Young’s acting was phenomenal, and at times could move one to tears. This was a performance that dealt with racism, homophobia and gender norms in an interesting but honest way.

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October 2021
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