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Susan & Darren, an Event with Dancing

Posted on May 13, 2010

Darren Pritchard is a tall and wiry dancer with very long legs and a shaven head; Susan Pritchard is small and round, with short blonde hair. Although physically unalike, the pair share facial features. Mother and son live together in a house in Salford, and the performance piece created about them by Quarantine and Company Fierce, Susan & Darren, an Event with Dancing, is a touching and revealing portrait of a family who have lived through tragedy and happiness.

Performed in the round, with a bank of television screens at one side and a kind of kitchen bar opposite, the piece opens with Darren describing and mapping out the interior of their living room. In one corner is Susan’s sofa where Darren snogged his boyfriend and at the side of which Susan keeps her catalogues; in another is a table where Susan keeps her Motown coasters; opposite is a pole that reaches the ceiling. Finding humour in the most mundane of descriptions – often with matter-of-fact interjections from Susan – Darren proves a talented comic performer, revealing with warmth how the individual objects described are interconnected with memories of members of his family.

Whilst Susan goes into the kitchen to prepare food, Darren puts on some music and proceeds to dance around the living room in the way that only people obsessed with dance perform in the privacy of their own home with the door closed and the music turned up. Susan watches him with motherly pride, and then, out of the blue, asks him, “What will you miss about me when I have gone?” The question brings the audience up short – it is the first indication of the sadness the family has lived through.

Darren asks Susan about his father, “Did you ever spend Christmas together?” It transpires he was killed in a fight whilst Susan was pregnant with Darren. “Do I look like him?” he questions her. Susan barely nods her head in reply. Darren lifts her up in a comforting gesture, and as he puts her down he gently straightens her top with tender care. Standing behind her, he puts his chin on top of her trembling head, and later lifts his foot onto her shoulder. These touching movements, devised by choreographer Jane Mason, demonstrate beautifully and with subtlety the mutual support the pair provides one another. Later, it transpires that Susan’s second partner also died when she was pregnant with her daughter, and that she had been brutally raped following a night out with friends. In a danced solo of mourning, Darren strips down to his shorts and clambers up the pole, performing movement with the kind of grace and gravity that delineates the tragedy of his mother’s life. He then lies down on the kitchen bar, and pietà-like, Susan slowly and carefully wipes his prone body with a cloth as if he were a corpse.

This might sound hard going, but Susan & Darren is a work filled with honesty and such earthy humour it is hard not to smile along with the pair. Like an old married couple, they talk over each other’s stories, and then get members of the audience to dance a routine with them on stage to an old Barry White number. Susan describes the utter poverty of her childhood and the excitement over getting a new dress when she was ten years old. When she asks again what Darren will miss about her, after listing many things he finally replies: “Most of all I will miss dancing with you,” and they pair up to dance as the lights fade.

Written by Sonia Hughes and directed by Richard Gregory and Renny O’Shea, Susan & Darren has been performed over 70 times since 2006, but was appearing in London at the Lilian Baylis Studio for the first time this May. As an example of how marvellously the arts of theatre and dance can complement each other in a single work, this is a production that deserves a wider audience and should not be missed.

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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