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A CurtainUp London Review
Dance Bear Dance
We meet at the railway arches. They are dressed in dog masks and pinstripe suits, carrying metal suitcases. The dog women lead me inside a room under the arch. I am given a name card with an Angolan flag, and I am told to find my place at the international conference table, around which other strangers sit.
Sounds like a dream? A nightmare? A mockery of recent politics? It is Shunt's theatrical installation, Dance Bear Dance, and it is a masterful creation.
At the conference table, three delegates (from Spain, Yemen, and Belarus) inform the audience of a terrorist plot to destroy someone passing on a train overhead, in which they must participate in twenty-four minutes. The scene is broken by staccato blackouts, during which various illogical events occur: the table begins smoking under the ashtrays, plates crack in the darkness, the red glow from lit cigarettes
As the time approaches in which the dynamite will detonate, the sense of urgency heightens and the scenes between the delegates become increasingly hostile. There is use of a video projection, a sound system, and video monitors, as all of the delegates (audience and actors) gather on one side of the room in order to proceed to the "safe space."
The connections between one scene and the next are difficult to logically understand, but the audience is easily led by the absolute commitment of the actors. The ensemble are physically committed, fit of body and mind to create and transform this insane universe.
In retrospect, much of what I witnessed could have been quite terrifying: being left to die alone in a room while the cast disappeared, standing in close proximity to briefcases full of fire, breaking glass and watching people hanging by wires. Truthfully, at the time, it was very funny. The cast has very good comic timing, making what could seem terrifying or awkward into an absurd, Monty Pythonesque comedy. While I felt I was in secure hands, I do hope that Shunt have taken care to ensure the safety of their cast and the audience.
There were three opportunities to buy refreshment, and Shunt encourages inebriation to enable the audience to participate in their mad exploits. Much of the humor comes from being led by the capable actors who are walking the line between danger and play. Drunken audience members, subverting the actors by lifting their masks, lighting cigarettes in the blackouts, and stepping out of designated audience areas upset this delicate balance. The drunken punters ruined some of the amazing dreamlike qualities of the play, and I am sure it happens more frequently than just the night I attended the play. Audience collusion is hard-won among traditional theatregoers, and audience participation can surely be tricky. The actors herd the audience around, placating them with cookies and explosions, titillating them with strip teases and smoking boxes. Eventually, they quieted even the rowdiest of audience members into voyeurism.
Enough said. Go and see this play. It will expand your notions of theatre, even site-specific theatre. My head is swimming with ideas of a parallel universe, the impending danger in our daily lives, the ridiculousness of world politics, the beauty of dreams, and the dreaminess of reality. Not to mention the vision of a clever sweeping brown >bear
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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