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|A CurtainUp Review
Play Wthout Words
-- Lizzie Loveridge's review of Play Without Words at the National Thheatre in London
Matthew Bourne is England's most exciting and innovative choreographer. His Play Without Words returns to the National Theatre after a sell out season last year. This isn't just a dance piece, but dancer-actors using movement and expression rather than words to set up a narrative. This sensual piece full of eroticism allows the audience to use their imagination to fill in the space left by the lack of a text.
Taking the Swinging London of the 1960s and specifically Joseph Losey's film The Servant, Bourne lets up to three dancers, dressed identically, play aspects of one character. At first it can be confusing for these are no synchronised dancers, they are not clones. Each couple is slightly different like one of those pairs of cartoons where one has to circle the discrepancies. But slowly we accept that the three are the same person, maybe emphasising differing aspects of the character, or drawing out slight nuances of reaction to a situation. The use of several people playing each character gives the piece much more artistic licence and vibrancy.
In one scene, one Anthony, the upper class young man of The Servant is undressed by his manservant ready for the shower, while the other Anthony starts off in his underpants and is dressed by another manservant. The juxtaposition of the two is curious and erotic. Bourne is stressing the social changes that were imminent in the early 1960s, the sexual revolution of the late Sixties, the break with the class stratified society of the past towards a more fluid social structure. Anthony's relationship with his servant represents the past, his sexual relationship with Sheila the housemaid is the future where class barriers are lowering.
There is plenty of social comment. Glenda, who is Anthony's beautifully turned out girlfriend, looking like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's with her elegant chignon and Dior suit, drapes a lace tablecloth or changes the cushions and curtains, homemaking gestures in Anthony's house. An outtake scene shows the hectic life in Swinging London as boys and girls in black and white op art outfits gyrate to fast music. Scenes in the local pub complete the picture as a part of the manservant's life outside his work. The sex scenes are handled with extreme skill and sex is injected into those scenes where the manservant is tending to his employer with provocative and suggestive sliding action. I liked the way one pair of Sheila and Anthony watch as another make love. The voyeur possibilities are explored by Bourne.
Most of the music is cool and jazzy, slow funky sounds of the era. Modern jazz predominates, a lone trumpeter dancing with his instrument. Lex Brotherston's remarkable set is a skewed collection of London landmarks of the 1960s, the Post Office Tower, Centrepoint, red telephone boxes, railings and street signs contributing to atmosphere.
My reservations are these. Sitting in the middle of Row G, the best possible seats in the theatre, I was too close to be able to see all three couples and had to switch visually from couple to couple. Also the Lyttelton was designed as a drama venue rather than a dance one and some of the action at floor level was obscured and being so close, some of the facial gestures of the dancers seemed to me to be overly exaggerated. This is understandable when one has only choreography and facial expression to convey a story but it gives Play Without Words an artificiality from the front few rows. So my advice for maximum enjoyment is to go for seats farther back than usual.
LINKS to Curtain Up's reviews
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker now at Sadlers Wells until 24th January 2004
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.