Don’t Leave Me This Way


Produced and presented by Zoo Indigo, Germany / Hungary / Ireland / UK, 60mins

Voila! Europe Festival, London | November 20-21, 2020

Nick Awde | THE X REPORT

Don’t Leave Me This Way sees Rosie Garton and Ildiko Ripple meld Eurovision and gig theatre into a search for their roots across the continent of Europe. It’s a quest that begins with the duo limbering up for the song competition, complete with bursts of vintage Terry Wogan commentary, across a trio of catwalks extending from red-curtained entrances.

Both have migrant parents – and Ripple herself moved country to live in Britain – who become the starting-point for a tour that retraces their steps in the hinterlands of Ireland, Hungary and Germany.

What follows is a pot-pourri of routines inspired by their encounters – naming five Hungarian inventions and singing ‘Michael Finnegan’, knocking up poteen and goulash – prompted by landscapes, Eurovision singers and arty shapes from the screens in battered suitcases interleaving the catwalks.

The dialogue veers Joyce-like from the abstract to the poetic to the earthy, punctuated by Rob Rosa’s winsome doublestopped reels, as their return destination focuses on the quirks of being British yet not quite British, wanting to blend into the UK, the consequences of Brexit for citizenship rapidly diminishing the ability to be European.

Garton and Ripple set up monologue points where they shift into another gear as each takes stock of family history and socioeconomic backdrop, often stark depictions of the migrant experience where language loss and facing prejudice are also part of heritage.

In the process they discover that countries are diverse and complex behind the veneer of monoculture, and that we can learn so much from the friendship in sharing that diversity. Suddenly Eurovision is no longer a kitsch celebration only, it’s also a compelling means of bringing nations together regardless of who gets nul points.

The rapport between Garton and Ripple, who devised the show, is evident as they juggle today’s trivia and yesterday’s folklore, mirroring each other in movement and voice. It’s to their credit that they resist the easy route of dipping into nostalgia or passing judgement on what textually ends up an analysis of identity and acceptance.

Onstage, Rosa adds musical commentary via his own Czech heritage, and a fourth presence is company member Matt Marks, musician and composer whose recent death forms a separate narrative that connects at the end. The performers move though a landscape created by Ben Hughes’s lighting and Barret Hodgson’s multimedia.

The variety show format of this Zoo Indigo production offers space for a spectrum of set pieces but things are lost in the detail, creating little context for the places and people Garton and Ripple seek out. The through-story hits too many detours and what the pair learns in the end over-relies on its obviousness – picking a single journey strand would make more sense of those detours and convince that Don’t Leave Me This Way is more than the sum of a Lonely Planet google or Guardian Brexit feature.

The watch party version revealed that this pre-recording was the first time the team came together to perform in a theatre, knowledge that added appreciation of the show and anticipation of how it premieres before a physical audience later in 2021.

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