Not many, if any, shows I’ve been to, can open with a ‘man bites woman’ scene, generate giggles at three minutes and inspire a ‘Mexican wave’ from the audience within five minutes!
Tickets clutched in hands, the crowd gathers outside the Loft theatre for this sold out show, billed as ‘live dance’ and as a celebration of the ‘mundane and the absurd’. Squeezing through the crowd plucking his guitar, Paul Buckton indicates that the performance has begun and some of us catch glimpses of dancers engaged in a strange duet against the window (including the ‘man bites woman’ scene). When the doors open to the theatre, the crowd rushes in, obviously willing to engage in this already mutating theatrical experience. John Radford, object manipulator, gives the spotlight to a glowing plastic bunny and then, quite shamelessly, tells jokes, emphasized by ‘ba-boom’ musical highlights. The crowd is engaged, pleased and giggling already. But this is no stand-up comedy routine. As the residue of audience laughter ripples through the laptop of Bonehead into the space, the dancers walk and fall, little moments of ‘dancing’ erupting as the sound morphs into whistles, bird calls and a tortured violin solo from musician Paul.
Dancers Julia Milsom, Georgie Goater, Josh Rutter and Kristian Larsen converge in an ensemble that shifts laterally as John Radford proceeds to spray them from a small bottle, each either continuing regardless, or dutifully dissolving into the floor, or asking for more, until there is only the violin and one turning, running figure. Georgie, in the half light and sudden silence, swirls deliciously through the space eventually sinking into a swivel chair that suddenly appears behind her knees. Seated regally she continues, despite the work of John Radford in measuring the distance between her and others in the space. Announcing the measurements to lighting designer Sean Curham as though useful, John Radford then ties the measuring tape to the chair and proceeds to lead the seated Georgie through the space, explaining that “you have to walk them, because these dancers get a bit neurotic!”
At this stage, a mere 15 or so minutes into the performance, all expectations seem to have fled the theatre, and the performers are left to the activity of producing a show – unknown in content – but nevertheless a show! They are committed throughout, enthusiastically following even the craziest ideas to conclusion and delivering an emotionally charged performance in which moments of happy brilliance meet with unexpected contortions and a veritable cacophony of sound. Within the duration of this show, the performers continue even when off stage, sometimes vocalising through the laptop, applauding each other, engaging in rough and tumble antics, willingly being manipulated, tracing moments of aural and visual beauty, integrating and deconstructing images from popular culture and our shared, repressed subconscious.
In a few such moments, Kristian regales the audience with a list of things not to do while driving on the motorway. John Radford creates a boundary of sticks around Larsen and Bonehead, explaining his actions and inviting us to watch them interact. Musician John Bell offers a diverse accompaniment of percussive and clanging sounds and some sort of tenor horn played from behind the lighting booms. A party erupts with the introduction of an old record player joining the clanging bells and other unlikely musical instruments. As the crowd joins in with clapping, the celebration builds to a climax and another ‘Mexican wave’ flies through the audience.
Post-climax, most performers exit, leaving Julia centre-stage and Kristian slumped against the back wall. Julia offers a bold movement statement and, with Kristian’s commentary, develops the idea into a short solo. The process of dance making is revealed, laid bare for a moment, and Julia asks, “are you still getting it?” The two discuss how well they think the show is going, until something unseen happening offstage spills into the space. Dueting dancers alternately block and compliment each other, moving around cardboard sheets John Radford offers to ‘conceal’ and reveal’ both himself and the dancers. Julia attempts to dance her solo again, this time ‘surfing’ on a cardboard sheet atop the other dancers. Meanwhile, the lights side of stage begin their own swivelling dance.
However, there are also moments when things break down, not deliberately deconstructed, but instead moments when I’m left wondering when the zoo-keeper will enter and whether we in the audience will be told off for feeding the animals. Fortunately, these moments are few. The show is rescued by the comic timing of asides from Kristian, (such as “oh that’s better” and ‘don’t be lame’ and ‘do it like we rehearsed it’), and the explanations of John Radford (“This is a dancer and this is a musician and I have placed them in this boundary but they are free to interact. We’ll see what happens”, and ‘This is an improv – anything can happen”.)
This is a show – performers, lights, sound, action – its all happening! And the audience knows how to participate! “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr John Radford” Kristian announces and we all clap, each time. We, in the audience, know when it is the end.
To describe this show as unusual, surprising, innovative and constantly shifting, does not quite capture the way in which the wrestler becomes a shaman, a swirling dancer is cured of neurosis, bedpans become sonic objects of desire, a conclusion manifests as a kick in the head or a friend falling at your feet, and the words ‘conceal, reveal’ become a manifesto for performance. This is not a show for the faint hearted, and you do have to be there in the audience to really appreciate the magic of performance improvisation. I will be back to watch their next show, willing to subject myself to the unknown again, to suspend myself in the moments of truth that arise in the unlikely combination of actions and objects – ready to watch creativity embodied, knowledge erupting in the moment of performance we call a show.
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