The animal within: two of These Shores' characters, the familiars of the two protagonists. Source:
The animal within: two of These Shores’ characters, the familiars of the two protagonists. Source:

Firefly Arts – Fresh (Livingston, Scotland) / Quilt Performing Arts Company (Kingston, Jamaica)
Contact Theatre
11 July 2014

This impactful theatrical double-bill provides evidence for the power of creative collaboration – Fresh and Quilt swapped ideas while developing their shows, These Shores… and Colour Me, and many times we could see the blooming results of that theatrical cross-pollination.

These Shores is a touching exploration of that classic source of teenage troubles, being true to oneself. The two protagonists took a wrong turn that led them away from their inner selves, represented by animalistic familiars who followed them around the stage.

The story is universal – they itch to see the big wide world but end up selling their souls – but this talented company tells it in a way that is exciting, funny and, yes, fresh. Scenes flow into and out of expressive movement or dance, lending the whole thing a beguiling, enchanted air. The occasional video projections work well, set to rousing music, though they could perhaps have been improved by being cut slightly shorter.

At one point it occurred to me that the only thing missing was for the cast to burst into their own music – and sure enough, minutes later they began to sing. While the story expresses typical teenage alienation and anxieties, the performances of the cast show a subtlety beyond their years and the different methods of storytelling blend together beautifully to create a memorable whole.

Quilt Performing Arts puts on a high-energy show from start to finish with its offering, Colour Me, which tackles themes of oppression and politics, alongside personal stories such as a woman’s battle with cancer and laugh-out-loud observational sketches, poetry, music and dance. If this sounds like a lot for one half of a double bill to encompass, that’s because it is – the strength of the show’s ideas suffers from the sheer length of the thing and the number of different themes it explores.

Coming after the powerful show by Fresh also counts against it. Fresh’s story, although less ambitious, expresses its ideas more clearly and succinctly than Quilt could manage, having set themselves such a large task.

Nevertheless, the cast attack the piece full-force, bombarding the audience with harmonies, pirouettes, and poetry. A particularly effective scene uses the same song that had accompanied the video finale of These Shores... While the track, These Streets by Paolo Nutini, is used by Fresh to explore their sense of home and adventure, Quilt pairs it with a dance in which workers free themselves from grey suits to show the colourful garments they wear within, expressing their inner selves.

This interaction between the two shows, like other interconnections of theme or even certain movements or postures used by actors of both companies, shows that These Shores… and Colour Me do belong on the same bill, even if it occasionally seems as though they suffer by comparison.