Theatre Review: WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester


WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING is a kaleidoscope of memories, people and experiences charting the changing attitudes to gay rights

Following the sell-out successes of THE FACTORY and NOTHING, the Royal Exchange Theatre’s award-winning Young Company return with a new original piece charting the shifting and stalling attitudes to gay rights.

WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING invites the audience to travel through space and time to experience what it’s like to fall in love with someone of the same gender. The promenade production, which takes place labyrinth basement of the Royal Exchange building, explores themes of love, desperation and frustration through movement, letters and spoken word.

Created by Director Matt Hassall and the Young Company, WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING is a kaleidoscope of memories, people and experiences. Drawing on inspiration from poems, love letters and photographs, this bold and gripping piece of immersive theatre pieces together the stories of those who fought for the right to love. As the audience moves through the secret spaces, the narrative shifts through key events in time, most notably the Clause 28 rally of 1988.


Gay culture in the 1950s had to remain underground – both literally and figuratively – to avoid police attention, so it’s no accident that the 50 minute piece is reimagined in the depths of the Royal Exchange building. Abandoned tunnels, rooms and derelict spaces combine to create over eight performance spaces, all of them steeped in history and character.

In one scene, a room full of letters telling stories of frustrated passion and unrequited love are shared verbally and in writing, before the audience is told to quickly destroy them in order to conceal our identities. In another scene, the cast (and the audience) create banners for the march, just a wall away from the now-disused public toilet in St Ann’s Square, a place where many gay men would meet during the days when homosexuality was still illegal. It’s a stark reminder that behind these stories are real experiences and in many ways, you are walking with ghosts from the past.

The talented Young Company cast deliver a compelling performance, exploring the secret locations in both physical and dynamic ways. Bethany Wells’ striking set design also impresses, each space offering something different, including an opportunity to join dance. The only real criticism is the occasional loss of energy between scenes, mainly caused by the promenading from space to space, and the rather abrupt ending, which (perhaps intentionally) leaves the story open and without real closure.

That said, this is a bold, daring and original production which respectfully honours the radical individuals who were brave, defiant and bold enough to bring the LGBT community out of the shadows and into the light. More importantly, it allows the ghosts of lost, broken or forbidden love to finally have a second chance at love and share their story with the world.

4.5 out of 5 stars

WE WERE TOLD THERE WAS DANCING runs at Royal Exchange until 20 August 2017