Sam Holcroft's short play Dancing Bears examines the twisted loyalties and violence of teenage gangs. It was first performed as part of Clean Break's Charged season, a collection of plays about the lives of women in the criminal justice system, at Soho Theatre, London, on 10 November 2010. Cockroach was revived at the Soho Theatre in March 2011.
The play is performed on 'a bed of hot coals', with the characters constantly performing a 'firewalk'. It begins with the unlikeable Dean coercing his friend’s sister, Charity, into having sex with him before abandoning her when she becomes pregnant. As a consequence she, Babymother and Razor Kay form a girl gang with the aim of standing up to the men who have injured and discarded them. But their mistreatment has left them with no means of communication beyond violence, or the threat of violence. Soon there’s a court hearing pending and the girls’ relationships with each other descend into violence.
In an article for the Nick Hern Books blog (http://nickhernbooksblog.com/2011/03/25/spotlightoncharged/), Holcroft wrote: 'I began researching several months before putting pen to paper. You don’t have to dig deep to find many extraordinary stories of suffering, triumph and gut-twisting injustice. Clean Break put me in touch with women who had experience of gang culture and they kindly shared their stories with me. I also attended the 2010 Nacro Youth Justice Conference and spoke with social workers, police, teachers and health professionals who helped to shed light on the psychology behind gang-related behaviour. And slowly but surely a structure began to emerge. ... It seemed that all-female gangs often evolved as offshoots from mixed-gender gangs. Girls were choosing to set up on their own to avoid the misogyny, violence and lower social status afforded them in mixed-gender gangs. But, sadly, sooner or later these new all-female gangs would begin to mirror the hierarchies of the mixed-gender gangs they’d left behind. And these hierarchies would be daily reinforced by threats and violence against girls at the bottom of the chain from girls higher up. So it seemed impossible to write a play without both male and female characters in order to explore this mirroring of behaviour. Clean Break has a policy of working with only women and so all characters in the play, whether male or female, are played by women. But I soon realised that this would work in favour of the drama. Boys could morph into girls before our eyes: their machismo give way to femininity; their hunched shoulders drop; they would arch their backs – like a ripple effect, a stage of boys would become a stage of girls. However as we continue to watch, unintentionally, they would begin to mimic the boys they were fleeing from, and this time instead of knives they would wield guns.'
The Soho Theatre premiere was directed by Tessa Walker and designed by Soutra Gilmour. It was performed by Emmanuella Cole, Danielle Vitalis, Ony Uhiara and Samantha Pearl.