Everyone has sat in the back of a cab staring blankly at the driver’s head, and aside from the usual ‘busy day’ chit chat we pay our fare knowing nothing about their lives.
So, when John Rwothomack as cab driver Taxi stands at the end of the stage in this converted mill offering us the back of his head, he is asking us to take a journey inside his often troubled mind on a busy night shift. Along the way Andrea Heaton’s words offer us a chance to meet different Leeds folk who jump in behind him, based on co-director Douglas Thorpe’s own experiences as a cabbie.
It is an often hallucinatory trip round the city that kicks off with homeless man Mal – who may or may not be the ferryman to the underworld – jumping up on the bar to rant about his life before leading the audience into the performance space. A strong community chorus creates the bustle of a city moving parts of Zac Doughty’s stark set around, including driver and passenger seats, as well as playing some of the minor roles to pre-recorded words that jar with the strong performances from the professional cast.
Red Ladder are rarely predictable, and they’ve introduced dance as a core element of this piece working with mad dogs dance theatre. The often dream-like dance sequences expressing the character’s inner feelings are performed with conviction by cast members who are also trained dancers. Although given the gritty subject matter, like Taxi being threatened and fearing for his life, some of the choreography could have been a bit sharper.
Rwothomack holds it all together powerfully portraying a decent man on the edge haunted by his own demons as much as the damaged people sitting behind him. John Kendall dances well and gives the ethereal Mal genuine dignity as he rampages round the city trying to get his next fix pursued by a concerned Taxi. Gerald Headley is scary as dealer Lino who is often on the edge of being a cliché, and Rose Ellen Lewis is convincing as grieving fare Nadia, and does her best with suspiciously posh dealer Dee.
There’s a little too much going on in Taxi, and the interludes based round black and white movies didn’t work for me, with one being far too obvious. This is Rod Dixon’s last directing gig as Red Ladder’s Artistic Director after 17 years, and he should be commended for not going out with a greatest hit or left of centre classic, but instead offers a new piece that pushes the company’s boundaries as he takes his final bow.
Taxi feels less obviously angry than Red Ladder’s usual work, and more focused on the psychological damage inflicted on people living on the edges of society, but it still has a lot to say about modern Britain, and there’s more than enough here for the company’s loyal fans to enjoy a post-show chat.
Taxi is at Old Woollen Mill, Farsley until Sunday 20th August. To book https://www.redladder.co.uk
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 13th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: