A woman enters the changing room for the first time in decades.
A lifeguard twiddles his thumbs as he dreams of being a real hero.
A crammed aerobics class slides into slow motion; their thoughts tumbling out as they watch their bodies in the unforgiving mirror that surrounds them.
TAKE ON ME is a show taking place after hours in leisure centres across the UK. Set in the 1980s world of headbands and leg warmers, it follows a lonely woman coming to the gym for the first time and a lifeguard who has never saved anyone.
Live musicians belt out classic 80’s hits including I Wanna Dance with Somebody and Flashdance, and lead you through the changing rooms, gym, an aerobics class and finally the pool. You are a fly on the wall for one extraordinary day in these people’s lives, as characters from 80’s films appear out of nowhere to change the course of fate.
A guest cast of local people play various parts including the Karate Kid, the centre receptionist and pool spectators who suddenly break into a rendition of Holding Out for a Hero. You’ll never look at your leisure centre in quite the same way again!
This unique production toured to six leisure centres with 249 guest cast members, seen by a total audience of 1,482 people:
Friday 16 to Sunday 18 November 2018
Rossmore Leisure Centre, Poole, Dorset
In partnership with Lighthouse Poole.
Friday 23 to Sunday 25 November 2018
Alive Oasis Leisure Centre, Hunstanton, Norfolk
In partnership with Creative Arts East.
Saturday 1 to Sunday 2 December 2018
Hoo Sports Centre, Kent
In partnership with Ideas Test.
Friday 15 to Sunday 17 February 2019
Broughton Leisure Centre, Salford
In partnership with The Lowry.
Friday 22 to Sunday 24 February 2019
Everyone Active Acton Centre, London
In partnership with Ealing Council.
Friday 1 to Sunday 3 March 2019
South Reading Leisure Centre, Reading
In partnership with South Street Reading.
- Created by Daphna Attias & Terry O'Donovan
- Directed by Daphna Attias
- Text by Andrew Muir
- Design by Amy Jackson
- Rehearsal Director Anna Woolhouse & Fiona Watson
- Sound Design by Eleanor Isherwood & George Hicks
- Cast: Sophie Gunn, George Hicks, Eleanor Isherwood, Fiona Watson, DK Ugonna
- 2016 Guest Cast Stefy Barton, Alex Curtis, Tom Dicker, Sophie Gunn, Stella Kailides, Jazzy Jones, Scott Swinton
- 2016 Choir Bletchingley Community Choir including John Spedding, John Thurston, Andy Catford, Astrid Charters, Owen Thurston, Liz Wise, Sue Reilly
- Photography Justin Jones & Jessica Bevan
TAKE ON ME began life after Terry visited a 1980's built leisure centre in Barking that was being closed down and demolished. We became interested in this very democratic space that invited every part of the local community through the doors - from babies swimming for the first time to older people who've been ordered by their GPs to do some exercise to gym buffs and aqua aerobics groups. These spaces are melting pots of people getting their heart rates going, striving for 'better' versions of themselves, to look better, to feel better.
Harlow Playhouse commissioned our Research & Development period, during which time we spent full days in two different leisure centres in Harlow. Writer Andrew Muir, Associate Arist Anna Woolhouse and theatre-maker Rachel Mars collaborated alongside musicians Stu Barter and Áine O'Dwyer. We chatted with staff members about why they think people come to leisure centres, we spoke with weight-lifters and young mums taking part in trampoline fitness classes. We sweated our way through spinning classes, heard stories with the cleaners, danced in squash courts and fell into pools. We met a fascinating man whose introduction to the sports centre's aerobics class helped him to come to terms with his sexuality. The more time we spent soaking up the culture of the leisure centres the more it became clear that these buildings foster communities and offer people the opportunity to connect with people and to make friends as well as help to keep their bodies in better shape. This fact inpsired us to create a production that included people from these communities within the performance, creating roles for different people to take part.
The binary nature of the changing room spaces and the gender make-up of different classes inspired the narrative and provoked us to bring boys into the girls changing roomg and vice-versa. This proves extremely challenging in practically making the show happen. Females rehearsing in a male changing room (and vice versa) proves very tricky. It certainly provoked us to gently challenge these binary spaces and question why our naked bodies are divided in our modern world.
We were delighted to be commissioned to make the full production by Farnham Maltings and Arts Partnership Surrey's 'not for the likes of me' commission in 2016. This commission invited us to re-shape the production for 7 leisure centres across Surrey. The creation process was certainly the most challenging we've ever encountered. It was incredibly rare to have any exclusive access to space within the leisure centres. A fascinating challenge, it also afforded us the opportunity to continue to engage with the communities using the spaces. We had to learn how to best open conversation in a busy gym whilst we worked with non-professional performers to choreograph a sequence on treadmills, and explain to gentlemen having a shower that the woman playing the keytar was rehearsing for this weekend's performance and would he mind if she sang whilst he got dressed...
Our 2018 and 2019 revival of the production is incredibly exciting. It will be our most ambitious project to date - working with thousands of local people around the country to create six different casts following two weeks of residencies. We can't wait to adapt each performance for every community we work with, and every leisure centre we move through.
TAKE ON ME was commissioned by Farnham Maltings and Arts Partnership Surrey, co-commissioned by Harlow Playhouse and funded by Arts Council England.
The 2018-2019 Project is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and Arts Council England.