A night of drama in a Manchester bedsit

Innovative theatre isn’t dead. It’s happening in a flat near Moss Side, says John Jeffay

July 15, 2010
Leo Kay performs to audiences of no more than 15 people at a time

Leo Kay performs to audiences of no more than 15 people at a time

Leo Kay invites you into his Manchester bedsit for a theatrical experience with a difference.

He takes his tiny audience (no more than 15) on a journey of discovery spanning three generations, from Nazi Germany to Palestine and back to Britain.

It starts with the Jewish grandfather he never knew, Leo Knopfelmacher - a communist atheist and a merchant sailor who fled the Nazis to Vienna in the 1930s, moved to Palestine and ended up in London.

Mr Knopfelmacher's son, Tom Kay, was the architect who designed the El Al building in Tel Aviv which, back in 1960, was Israel's tallest building. He was latterly - as a determined act of anti-Zionism - visiting professor at the Birzeit University, in Ramallah.

Leo Kay himself is a self-described "theatre maker" who specialises in pushing back the traditional boundaries of performance art and is using this show to discover the different ways he has been shaped by the previous male generations of
his family. Kay says he is "exploring heritage and ancestral healing, mental health and the serendipity of coincidence".

He feels that his grandfather has been knocking on his door, asking him to tell his stories - and that is
the source of the show's title, It's Like He's Knocking.

I don't want to tell what people are going to experience

"I wanted to create a work that allowed me to celebrate and mourn my ancestry, and to tell their stories with simplicity and charm," he says.

He is coy about the actual content of the play as he doesn't want to spoil any surprises.

But this much we know: it takes place in a bedsit above a pub close to Manchester's notorious Moss Side.

Kay is the sole performer, with music by an Afro-Brazilian percussionist.

It lasts about an hour, and although there is some "audience participation", rest assured, there are no
nasty shocks.

"I don't want to tell people what they're going to experience," he says. "It's an unusual performance relationship and I want to keep the mystery and the ambiguity. If I explain what's going on before the show then I'm not doing my job. But I think people who have seen it come away in a reflective and celebratory mood."

Kay, 38, has spent his working life in drama. This show has evolved over eight years from something he describes as "physically and sonically extreme" - for which read loud
and wild - into something a little calmer and, if you read between his lines, probably a little more comprehensible.

"The audience understood the emotional content, but not the narrative," he says enigmatically.

His family tree is somewhat fractured - neither he nor his father knew his grandfather - so he has had to dig deep to find stories and reminiscences. "This show is very much about journeying, about the scattering of cultures and about the diaspora of Europeans."

At 44 Cavendish Street, Manchester, M15 until July 18. Tel: 0161 274 0600

Last updated: 3:01pm, February 18 2011