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Review by Antonia Cundy
We Are Ian is less of a play, and more of a dance. But that distinction does nothing to limit its brilliance, nor its theatrical intent. Produced and performed by the Exeter based trio of Kat Cory, Dora Lynn and Nora Alexander (aka ‘In Bed With My Brother’), We Are Ian is a fifty minute romp into 1989, and more specifically, the height of the Acid House movement in the UK. Like all of ‘In Bed With My Brother’s’ theatre, We Are Ian is based on the stories of their friends and family; the piece was devised through a series of conversations over a couple of beers with Ian himself, one of the girl’s stepfathers.
In the wonderfully intimate Alphabetti Theatre, the three actresses are on-stage in white overalls, and they’re dancing. The soles of their shoes light up and start to flash. A heavy bassline erupts from speakers at the back as the actresses start to head-bang. Within minutes, the entire audience is grinning from ear to ear and itching to dance ourselves as we watch the trio move madly about on stage, enacting rave-goers of 1989. There’s strobe lighting and a screen behind which features political and cultural footage from the period. Then, words appear on screen as we are invited to stand, and join the performers on stage after they’ve shoved ‘disco biscuits’ (some tasty digestives) into our mouths. Unlike much interactive theatre, where you cower in your seats thinking ‘not-me-not-me-not-me’, there is something undeniably appealing in the invitation and everyone jumps at the opportunity to go on stage and dance. We’re instructed in the moves of the ‘hot potato’ and ‘cold spaghetti’, and wiggle around on-stage for a song or two.
The energy of the first five minutes never lifts, and it’s a near-miracle that the three are able to engage an audience for an entire hour, purely through this mode of hybrid dance-acting. They also throw some seriously impressive shapes to the playlist of Ian’s favourite tracks from the era, which provides a backdrop to the entire performance. The trio consistently engage the audience with piercing eye contact and an entirely immersive performance; that they are drug-addled ravers is utterly convincing. The little theatre becomes palpably charged with an urge to go out and party.
The performance is not all fun and games though. We learn from the screen behind and through voiceovers from Ian himself that the late 80s and early 90s encompassed a time where dancing and raving was a form of political action. Worrying parallels are drawn between Thatcherite England and the current political climate – here and in the U.S – by a clever and consistent selection of footage from past and present. Particularly enjoyable is a moment when interlaced videos of Thatcher and Melania Trump ballroom dancing appear seamlessly in time with the raving actresses up front.
We Are Ian is an engaging, dynamic and important piece of theatre that is not done justice by the simplistic notion a ‘play’. It is a multimedia celebration of political activism, and the complexity of what hedonistic escapism can also represent. ‘Fun’ is a term that is often applied to activities such as going to the theatre, or the cinema, but rarely is it used in the active sense of the word; the implication of breathless enjoyment that we experience as children. With We Are Ian, however, it certainly is.