Theatre preview: Dancing Bear, West Yorkshire Playhouse

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A new show at West Yorkshire Playhouse next week explores faith, sexuality and gender through music, movement and storytelling. Nick Ahad reports.

Jamie Fletcher doesn’t want to share too much about his new production in case he gives away the surprises that lie in store.

Hardly surprising that he’s protective of his latest project, given that the director, performer and musician has clearly been waiting a very long time to tell this story.

Dancing Bear is a story that 
Jamie Fletcher has waited a lifetime to tell.

“The dancing bear is the part of me that’s broken and has to perform. It’s taken from pictures I saw of those shows that used to feature dancing bears.

“They were chained, had their teeth removed and had to perform at the whim of an audience. It feels like a great metaphor for personal integrity and spiritual peace,” says Fletcher.

As a gay man and a Christian, the path to spiritual peace has been a long one for Fletcher.

A graduate of Leeds College of Music, the Dancing Bear project began for Fletcher over five years ago and has so far incorporated a short film, publications and a 35-minute-long film called Alphabet Club, featuring contemporary dance.

Next week sees the third part of what Fletcher calls the Dancing Bear Trilogy come to the stage at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Featuring ten performers, Dancing Bear is described by Fletcher as ‘part theatre, part gig’.

“This performance is a culmination of the Dancing Bear trilogy, but I also think of it as a real provocation for change,” says Fletcher.

“These are real stories, real people, real experiences. We’ve taken stories of faith, sexuality, gender and through storytelling, music and movement we’re trying to move the discussion forward.”

The discussion at the heart of Dancing Bear is the question: can you be LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) and follow a faith?

“I was brought up in the Catholic church, it was an important part of me – I was an altar boy – but when I became a teenager I walked away from the church because there simply wasn’t a voice saying that it was okay to be gay,” says Fletcher.

“When you live in a society 
built around Christian culture 
and values, where the church impacts on so many people’s lives and the elephant in the room of sexuality isn’t being discussed, it’s vital.

“The subject has been swept under the carpet for such a long time that it is now a huge mound under the carpet that everyone keeps tripping up on. It feels important to be creating work like this right now.”

While the show tells several stories, there are three main characters; Fletcher, a fictional character called Andy and Owen Farrow, who is now, thanks to an appearance on BBC1’s The Voice, much better known by his drag act name Divina De Campo.

Fletcher has worked alongside musician and songwriter Beccy Owen to write original songs for the show, which feature heavily, but don’t make the show a musical, says Fletcher.

“In the same way that a Kneehigh show features music, but isn’t a musical, that’s kind of where we are coming from,” he says.

“The most important thing is that the show starts a conversation. If we can just have the conversation about faith and sexuality and all of those things, then I think we can make a genuine difference, or at least start to.

“I think there is a responsibility 
on the Christian community, but also on the queer community, to engage in conversation. At least 
we should be having the conversation.”

And if it all sounds a bit heavy – and the subject matter is clearly important – Fletcher has a simple message.

“Is it fun? We’ve got a drag queen.”

Dancing Bear is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on February 10. Tickets from the box office on 0113 2137700 or online via www.wyp.org.uk

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