Found in Translation: when a narrative chimes with a community

For those that haven’t seen it, Extra-Ordinary is the simple story of Lucy Hind, naive inexperienced South African dancer, getting the chance to work with DV8’s Dave Toole; whom she once asked for an autograph following a performance of The Cost of Living at the Lowry Theatre whilst on a trip to England. Planning an improvisational show (“right here, right now, right before your very eyes”) the show turns nasty as it becomes clear that Dave is just there for the money, doesn’t remember her from the Lowry and has no intention of truly dancing with this eager but inept amateur. There is an argument before a touching duet, mutually apologetic, closes the show.
Throughout the piece a lecture about particle physics plays from the radio that Lucy had been hoping would provide the chance sound track. The lecture gives an intellectual back bone to the physical story of these two very different, but equally socially estranged, performers as they try to find some common ground: “Two protons fuse only in the heart of a star”.

In the UK the story is of a hopeful South African trying to make her name in the big grown up Britain.

But the show here is subtly different- although the script has shifted only slightly.

Lucy (both the reality and the character) is coming home. To where she trained, cut her performing teeth, skinny dipped and got caught (repeatedly it would seem), cried, and grew up. Scattered amongst the audience are her tutors, her old colleagues, those that stayed behind and those that went abroad or to crazy bad Jo-Burg and have returned to Grahamstown for the festival.
They know her of old but haven’t known her for 6 years.

She is a mirror to them, and the road not followed.

The laughs comes in different places. “You think these people are impressed because you got work in the UK” spits Dave at one point. The audience fall about laughing. The laughter of people not knowing whether they are being insulted, patronised or witnesses to something unnecessarily vicious.
“I’m only here because of your dead Grandmother’s money” Dave’s line that was simple story in Hull or Salford shoots through the audience here like electricity- you can see them all thinking, Is that true? Or is this part of the fiction?

I was thinking about the Chou Theatre guys I saw in India last week. Creating and performing stories for a specific community to explain, confront and heal. There is a sense of this in Extra-Ordinary. Sure, it is a silly voiced clown Lucy with the guy from DV8 doing some well executed schtick (the moment where Lucy gets her hand caught in Dave’s wheelchair is particularly good). But it is also the moment when one of their own, small town girl returns from the big bad world complete with crowning glory in tow, falls flat on her face and is destroyed on stage before them all.
She is all of them, the moment they fear the most, the moment they fear so much they haven’t even tried, the moment they wished they had tried for years ago when it was possible, or the moment that is still there in the future daring them.
“I am good” pleads Lucy at one point only to be met by stony silence from Dave. The audience don’t know where to look.

There’s a degree to which this reading would resonate in Edinburgh or any theatre community. But here- in a tiny town where everybody knows each other- in a theatre community roughly the size of Leeds but spread for most of the time all over the world- for a generation for whom the world changed and so did the goal posts- for a community where the love and jealousy is highlighted by being stuck in the middle of the desert- here the resonance, the sadness, the hope and the final victory is amplified to a much greater level.

The show is a mirror to what could have been, what is feared still might and what they all were.

And here in Grahamstown they fucking love it.

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