We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary Review

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 20.38.33

As soon as I read the Synopsis of We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary, I knew it was going to be fantastic. Combining dance, drama and the club sounds of the 1980s, We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary tells an uplifting story of the power of gay friendship and the enduring importance of queer spaces. Developed as part of the Albany Theatre’s Hatched new writing programmed, the performance combines naturalistic drama, contemporary dance and underground nightclubbing culture, following the journey of 2 two best friends who set out to build their own underground club.

The Albany was a great setting for the place. Based in the heart of Deptford, the space describes itself as a new type of arts venue, very much driven by the cultural diversity and creative mix of South East London. Involving people, through participation and partnerships, is central to their work and is essential to the delivery of their vision. The whole vibe of the theatre is that of a community and a culturally rich space and this was echoed with the array of performances evidentially put on there.

The performance began with the fabulous Brandi (Carl Mullaney) in Gabriel’s drag bar in Angel, dressed to the nines, Brandi immediately put a smile on everyone’s faces through her sharp wit and instantly presented the queer theme strongly present through the rest of the performance. At this point two of the other central characters, Joseph (Oseloka Obi) and Michael (Jahavek Hall), who played the stage electric student and up and coming DJ who would go on to be a key focus of the performance also entered into the piece. A pair of amazing actors, they seemed totally at one with their roles, completely transforming into the characters to the point that you could not imagine them being anyone else in reality. Despite clearly identifying as Gay men, the fact that they didn’t adopt stereotypes in the form of over the top flamboyance to reflect their LGBTQ background was so refreshing to see. The same could be said for Paul (Dean Graham) the club promoter that would pull these two young men into a world of clubbing, drink and drugs. Throughout the piece there was also a couple of silent but dominant characters. Dancers Jordan Ajadi and Shawn Willis kept us entrances with their mesmerizing dance routines. With just 4 actors in the play, they were essential to setting the scene, whether it be voguing at a night club or making out at a party their continuous presence set the scene perfectly, adding a whole other dimension to the play.

We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary follows the story of two young gay men who set out to build their own underground club. A place of pure escapism where prejudice, poverty and bigotry could be forgotten for a few hours, this space provided a sanctuary to a community desperately discriminated against, living against a backdrop of desperate levels of unemployment, riots, driven by racism, and AIDS casually reported as a gay plague. At parts working with and at other parks working against Paul, they experience the highs, lows and emotional challenges of working in the underground clubbing scene, where addiction and sex threaten to tear their friendship apart. With Brandi and Paul acting as key teachers on their journey through queer spaces, you watch them grow into two accomplished young men. The play finishes with the ultimate realisation of what it means to actually experience the stereotypes they have been surrounded by, with the death of a dear friend, killed by AIDS. An absolute devastating occurrence, they still managed to create an overwhelming sense of empowerment, with a reminder of their undying friendship and the positive affect this has on their lives still managing to keep the audience uplifted despite the circumstances.

An exceptionally written play, the themes of We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary stand as true today as they did then, exploring the importance of queer spaces and highlighting why club culture matters on a political, emotional and human rights level. A true take on what it is to be involved in such a culture, the exceptional acting and realness of the characters completely drew in the audience to the point that you almost felt part of the story. Added to this, the involvement of the two talented dancers created another level to the piece, providing a greater explanation behind the scenes and an interesting visual not usually used in this way. Praise goes to We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary. Exceptional actors, exceptional dances, exceptionally written. Simply exceptional.

Written by Jordan Crowley