Dance music has seemed to have had a bit of renaissance (excuse the pun!) in the mainstream this summer …
With artists like Drake and Beyoncé coming out with dance albums, with the latter arguably becoming the soundtrack of the summer. Music and indeed dancing is made for community, and so made the perfect topic of discussion for the Bush Theatre’s Young Company play, ANTHEM!
Celebration of the richness of the community that lives in west London and broadly in the UK seems to be at the heart of the Bush Theatre’s aim and it has established its commitment to this community, particularly this year with productions like House of Ife and Red Pitch. ANTHEM is no different.
As soon as you enter the theatre, you are welcomed by DJ and Young Company member Jonny Khan spinning the tracks. Due to the pandemic, we have been so robbed of these communal gatherings, that in some ways I felt nostalgic watching the show. This idea of nostalgia fits in with the confessional style of monologues in this piece. I enjoyed ANTHEM’s exploration of what it means to be a young person today, growing up in a world where you are hyper-connected due to social media, but that connectivity also breeding isolation. Coral Wylie and Maryam Garad’s monologues on this topic were particularly moving.
Although ANTHEM’s costuming gave Hunger Games vibes, the cast definitely provided colour and vibrancy to the show. The use of movement and spoken word pieces accompanied by music varied the pace of the performance and buoyed the narrative forward. Jordan Haynes’ dance sequence to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Want to Dance With Somebody’ perfectly captured the essence of this. At times, however, I did wish there was more narrative structure, as I found it difficult to ascertain what exactly the piece wanted to say about music/dance and protest due to the disconnected monologues.
ANTHEM was performed at the Bush over carnival weekend and so Young Company member, Bashiie Baptiste’s balanced personal reflection on carnival felt very fitting, especially given the Bush’s location in west London. Baptiste’s piece colourfully explored the origins of carnival in riot and protest. This fit in with the show’s exploration of protest captured also very well in a scene with Coral Wylie and James Walsh, exploring the collective movement of bees to kill an invader. Although this scene was a bit lengthy, it enforced the importance of collective rather than individual action to enact change.
ANTHEM ends in a climax rather than a resolution, and the disruption of the five-act structure completely works in their favour and confirms what these young people have sought out to do: disrupt old ways of doing things in favour of creating their own path. The Young Company gathered together onstage and stomped and howedl as Sara Dawood delivered a political spoken word piece. Normally, I would find this sort of ending a bit overkill, but it completely fit the heart of this piece.
16-25-year-olds lives have felt (negatively) in focus over the last two years: school disrupted, social life disrupted, Black Lives Matter and the climate crisis. They have and we have every right to be angry with the world the older generation has left us with.
It felt really important to see these young and diverse theatre-makers scream and laugh and I loved how every Young Company member was given a moment to shine. Watching them perform, I was reminded of the purpose of young communities – for young artists to figure out their own style and voice creatively and also to play. If ANTHEM is any indication, this new generation of artists has a lot to say and knows exactly how to make us listen.
ANTHEM ran @ The Bush Theatre