Tag Archives: Kayla Meikle

Marys Seacole – Donmar Warehouse

Marys Seacole - Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar’s last production dealt with the causes and consequences of male violence, the rhetoric and celebrated gung-ho spirit that takes men to war – legitimate or otherwise – charismatic leadership and the destruction of the male body. Henry V is a play filled with ambiguity, men die on the battlefield, they die in between, they are soldiers, they are civilians, they are noblemen and paupers, prisoners, spies and thieves. And Henry may walk away with another crown and a bargain princess with whom to start a dynasty, but someone has to pick up the pieces, to care for the wounded and dying when the King’s glory leaves them with shattered limbs, infections and survivor’s guilt. A biographical drama about Mary Seacole seems like a fitting follow-up.

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s new play Marys Seacole is an entirely female affair, no male characters are present, implied or even speak, only the time-travelling idea of Mary, her ghostly mother, Mary’s daughter and another tri-generational white family that she helps in a twenty-first century hospital setting. And while Sibblies Drury creates an overarching structure in which the story of the original Mary is played out from her early days in Kingston to the conflict zone of Crimea, the deliberate ‘s’ to pluralise the protagonist takes a long lens perspective on the role of female carers across two centuries and the gendered biological structures that continue to constrain women.

But Marys Seacole is a tough watch, an abstract style and disjointed scenes make it difficult to invest in what are archetypes rather than characters performing in what often feels like a chaotic assemblage of disconnected activities. It opens with Mary introducing her story, emphasising her determination and success as a woman who escaped conventionality to establish her own business and defied military and nursing authorities by arriving close to the battlefield with her team. Across the 1 hour and 45-minute running time, these elements are dramatised and distributed through the show like a backbone, (largely) retaining their period drama aesthetic to complete her physical and character journey from her homeland to a wider acceptance abroad.

From this, Sibblies Drury hangs another more nebulous dramatic device, using snippets drawn from scenarios involving versions of Mary and her daughter in different contemporary times and places. First we see her providing palliative care to a disorientated elderly woman in what we assume is an NHS hospital or facility and being chastised by the woman’s middle-aged daughter and granddaughter. Later, she sits on a park bench in the USA where mothers with babies in prams stop momentarily, ignoring Mary while one conducts brash phone conversations with a pharmacist and friend, while another complains about her loneliness. In a final scenario, Mary is running a trauma drill for new nurses, trying to heard a group of actors into performing their various roles in the aftermath of a terrorist incident.

They are connected by the cast performing similar character types and by the themes of motherhood and caregiving. There are also dialogue links between these situations with particular phrases uttered in earlier scenes returning later as individuals demand care, compassion or understanding, building to a frenzy of experience as Mary’s time in the Crimea becomes somehow bound-up with all of the people she has met and been throughout the play. And as the walls of time give way, allowing these shadows to bleed into her era and pick through the rubble, they overwhelm her with their demands for help.

And through this, Sibblies Drury weaves a broken connection with Mary’s ghostly mother, a lurking, spiritual presence that is always so strong in Carribean identity, who silently moves through the action, perhaps a yardstick for Mary to test her achievements against or a reminder that however far she travels she remains a Kingston woman. A lengthy monologue from this maternal ghost in the final scene speaks to these ideas, something of the shame Mary felt or disconnection from a parent who sent her away to care for a local white woman, but simultaneously reminding our heroine and all the Marys like her that their nursing efforts are in vain. There are nods to the government’s Windrush generation deportation plans to insist they will never be truly accepted and certainly never thanked for their work in the current NHS or contribution to wider social development in the last 70-years.

Sibblies Drury is telling an individual and a universal story at the same time, and there are powerful statements interwoven here, but together the seeming randomness of these various scenarios puzzles more than they explain or converge. The ideas are clear and the performative structures Sibblies Drury employs to tease out these concepts are certainly arresting, yet their overall meaning feels hazy. They are not quite straightforwardly dramatic yet also not impressionistic or representative enough to be either personally or politically pointed. The result is a piece that feels quite consciously stagey, keeping the audience on the outside of the drama and the emotive concerns it tries to address.

It is possible to see the influence of Carly Churchill and Sarah Kane in Sibblies Drury’s play, the combination of abrupt, anti-realist settings, the compression of time and historical figures into a single space as well as the interest in gender roles, motherhood and even the anthological style link to these two powerhouse political writers. Yet Marys Seacole doesn’t find quite enough strength in its connections, the joins between the various situations not yet strong enough to either grab the audience or push them to a place of discomfort where new thinking is possible. Instead, it feels as though most of the pieces are there but they just don’t fit together.

In staging Marys Seacole, Nadia Latif implies a simple but clinical medical field tent in a drab scrubs-green that sits somewhere between khaki and mint. Designed by Tom Scutt, there are two layers to the stage, front and back, divided by a strip of curtain with large Velcro pockets that double as storage rooms and sanitation facilities. Props are minimal which allows the story to travel relatively easily though time but there is no particular purity about period setting so anachronistic clothing or items (such as a nineteenth-century woman in trainers) appear throughout, although whether that is a deliberate statement to reinforce the fluidity of eras or a practical shortcut for costume changes is unclear.

There is however a powerful use of costume early on as the Victorian Mary delivering her opening biographical monologue is disrobed piecemeal by her daughter, removing the restrictive bodice and full skirt to reveal a modern nurses uniform. As a piece of identity performance, it is a fascinating moment, smartly easing our way into the next scene while simultaneously giving the audience a visual reference point for the core themes of Marys Seacole, as the narrative moves through and applies across time. And one of the production’s biggest successes is the way in which Scutt has represented changes in practice, dress and the management of conflict medicine through the design choices and reveals.

A contemporary hospital bed becomes an important and ingenious symbol of the Marys caregiving status. Initially used in the family scene in its original form, the bed transforms into a flat table with bench seating for Mary’s Kingston hotel and, later, into a park bench for the American moms encounter. Yet, there is inconsistency in how props are changed or moved within the production, sometimes actors bringing on their own items in relevant costume while the bed is repositioned and reformed by very visible stage managers in jarring modern black outfits and headsets, a necessity perhaps but it further breaks the illusion of the play and, like the undecided degree of abstract in the piece itself, it’s not clear what effect Latif is aiming for. There isn’t quite enough of this alienation technique to feel deliberate and if it isn’t then it just makes it even harder to maintain the spell during scene changes.

The production builds to a final confrontational scene that also tries to be symbolic and realistic at the same time. Finally, at the culmination of Mary’s story, there is some comedy in the brusque exchanges with a seemingly heartless and condescendingly competitive Florence Nightingale, but the men they tend are obvious dummies scattered chaotically around the stage, their torsos dressed in military jackets, trailing crepe paper streamers suggesting intestinal and other matter. Into this interaction between real people comes the people and phrases from other eras, holding plastic baby dolls – absurdist theatre is nothing without plastic baby dolls – and rifling through the debris. Visually, it’s a solid representation of the kind of battlefield carnage that those like Henry V would have caused but it has none of the visceral impact of Max Webster’s previous production, despite using some of the same soil. What we get instead, as in other parts of Marys Seacole, is powerful stage pictures but little translation of their meaning.

The performances are very good with a small ensemble cast of just six performers led by Kayla Meikle as the Marys. She is commanding from the first, delivering a rousing insistence of her worth, certain of her agency and importance, refusing to listen to the objections of others and pursuing her own course. Meikle explores some of the consequences of that determination in the final scene, responding to the maternal ghost’s warning of incipient racism, disinterest and betrayal, allowing her characterisation to crumble as the demanding world claws at her.

Meikle is supported by Llewella Gideon as that spirit who also delivers an final intense speech with bitterness and resignation, making the most of her only chance to speak. Olivia Williams is best as a haughty Florence Nightingale but is also given a harassed mother and simpering tourist in Kingston while Deja J. Bowens, Esther Smith and Susan Woolridge complete the cast as a series of mother and daughter figures at different stages of life, in various times and countries. They do a lot with a small ensemble, changing scenes rapidly to keep this relatively short show moving quickly even if very little of it makes sense.

Like the award-winning Fairview before it (staged at the Young Vic), Marys Seacole will certainly divide audiences with its sprawling approach and indecisive tone. It is certainly interesting to see a new play that tries to place a historical figure in a broader context of caregiving and racial injustice, particularly one devised and presented by a predominantly female creative team. But although Sibblies Drury’s play has lots of things to say and some interesting ways to say them, it can’t quite decide what it wants to be, leaving the audience equally baffled.

Marys Seacole is at the Donmar Warehouse until 4 June with tickets from £10. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog


Shoe Lady – Royal Court

Shoe Lady - Royal Court (by Manuel Harlan)

The one-hour play format has really come into its own in the last few weeks with several of the larger theatres staging meaningful One Act pieces and taking the lead from fringe theatre and festivals where shorter works are often programmed back-to-back to appeal to two or even three different audiences in one night. In some ways this is a natural reaction against a period of extra-long plays extending to at least if not beyond three hours, but the chance to be home by 9pm is a welcome one even if this spate of short plays doesn’t last long. The revival of two Carol Churchill plays is largely responsible with artistic integrity prized above interval bar sales with Far Away at the Donmar Warehouse and A Number at the Bridge Theatre playing solo, both so packed full of atmosphere and meaning that a second work would only detract from the power of their commentary on how the domestic and social is affected by science and politics.

Now, Graduate of the Young Writer’s programme, E.V. Crowe presents her new 65-minute play Shoe Lady at the Royal Court, which opens to the Press this evening, and takes an equally impactful look at the pressures of modern living. The central concept, that of a character with one one shoe forced to live with the indignities and physical challenges that it presents, is on the surface a silly one and the audience might expect plenty of slapstick encounters or Sex and the City posturing as the heroine Viv hobbles through this one day.

But Crowe uses this seemingly trivial scenario to more closely examine the ways in which we internalise and respond to societal expectations while judging those who fail to meet these prescribed standards – something as minor as a lost shoe becomes a symbol of Viv’s increasing ostracization and rapid descent into social dejection. The role of women as workers, wives and mothers is central, so to maintain status, lives, homes and families along with set notions of normalcy into which we painfully force ourselves, we all try to fit in, play the game and stay afloat. Crowe’s work is particularly interested in how the “merry-go-round” of commercial city living along with the “have-it-all mentality” this engenders affects female mental health which Shoe Lady charts in Viv’s declining stability as life and health unravel.

The compression of time in this play means Viv’s story acts as a symbolic or representative experience taking place across a single day in which the central character changes from reasonable optimism at the brightness of the morning to disorientation, devaluation and despair at its close. Director Vicky Featherstone’s approach adds layers to the concept with nods to seasonal changes as well, the charming spring morning turning to the searing and uncomfortable heat of summer that burns the exposed sole of Viv’s foot on the tarmac before autumnal leaves blow at her as she flees from a rash and pressured act, leading to an engulfing darkness as the consequences of her shoeless state are felt.

There is also a focus on the uneven balance of the trivial and more vital functions of life, with Viv frequently distracted by small homely concerns that put her wider purpose at risk. The flow of Viv’s mind between these different degrees of concern is one of Crowe’s most notable achievements here, and as the character prioritises fixing her bedroom curtain over taking her son to school and getting to work on time, or is distracted by a hidden and unnoticed smear on the window of a house she is showing to a potential buyer, Crowe reflects on the multitudinous expectations of perfection that Viv experiences, where the ideal home or outfit is given as much precedence in our overly-stylised instagrammable society as the basic functions of providing food and shelter.

Shoe Lady packs a lot of themes into its 65-minute run time, held together by the semi-absurdist style that Crowe has adopted in which her monologuing female lead talks to the audience, herself and occasionally to other characters in a scattering of dramatically constructed conversations. In staging the show, Crowe and Featherstone draw their influence not from the contained almost apocalyptic worlds of Beckett or Ionesco but from the dreamlike illusion of 1960s French cinema but mixed with the noirish splintered imaginings created by Salvador Dali for 1940s films like Hitchcock’s Spellbound. This heightened but vaguely nightmarish state is well maintained throughout the show as the tone darkens and the consequences of Viv’s lost shoe take on a terrible momentum of their own.

Chloe Lamford’s exciting design is simultaneously simple yet complex, a plain narrowing black box that creates a funnel shape with no exits to left or right, with only a square rear window at the back which references both those tense Hitchcock screen designs as well as the inescapable nature of this scenario for the lead character. Drawing more on this metaphor, Lamford creates further height within the stage with two descending staircases for Viv and her family to access the downstairs rooms of her house. Initially covered by a bed, the centre has a thin treadmill with clear allusions to the relentlessness of the society that Crowe depicts as well as creating opportunities for Featherstone to incorporate movement, travel and emotional emphasis within the rhythm of the play.

Katherine Parkinson’s recent stage work has focused on the challenges for modern women expected to publicly deliver an idealised concept of themselves and their lifestyle. Her last major West End role in Laura Wade’s superb Home I’m Darling as a wife wanting to live-out an idea of 1950s domestic perfection and vintage ease was a fascinating study in the dangers of nostalgia and our misplaced concept of historical reality that fractured beautifully in Parkinson’s fragile and nuanced performance. Parkinson has such an ability to tread the line between comedy and emotion which she uses here to great effect, drawing out the inner sadness and anguish that Viv experiences but maintaining the lightness of the play’s frame.

Here as the titular Shoe Lady there are similar ideas about the pressures placed on women especially to look, behave and even think a certain way. Crowe’s character is shown to be immediately afflicted by various contradictory worries but to the outside world as long as she looks presentable and normal in two shoes and can physically put one foot in front of the other, Viv’s interior struggles are irrelevant. Using that idea as the baseline of the play, we infer much of this from the writing and Parkinson’s performance, with Crowe starting from the point at which that changes. What we see, then, in Parkinson’s fascinating performance is a constant battle between wanting to maintain a semblance of normality, of adherence to social expectation while struggling to cope with the physical demands of her shoeless state.

So, while Viv proceeds with her day wearing only one shoe, makes it to work and continues to engage with her family, two intertwined things are happening to her; first her balance is physically and emotionally disrupted by the absent shoe, making her hobble but also slowly fracturing her sense of self and completeness with the missing part of her increasingly dominating her thoughts and actions. Parkinson is particular good at creating the confusion of Viv’s mind, the ways in which her thoughts splutter and disconnect, mindful only of the missing shoe – which itself represents another kind of internal balance that the treadmill of work and family expectation is disrupting or at least muting.

Second, is the bodily effect of Viv’s bare foot that becomes bloodied, painful and inflamed as she walks the city streets without any protection from the grit and damage of her journey. Parkinson often holds that leg out, drawing attention to its damaged state and incorporating greater physical distress into the performance as the impact of her day takes its toll on vulnerable flesh and bone. There is a sense of how easily we can suffer, how random acts and decisions, even the loss of a single shoe, can cause someone’s life to unravel fairly quickly and the audience is given an insight into the economic consequences for this small family.

Crowe uses secondary characters sparingly and allows them very little dialogue. Tom Kanji is Viv’s husband Kenny who remains mute for most of the time he is on stage, a presence in the same bed who attends to their child but rarely voices his own feelings or concerns to his wife. We learn that Kenny is also facing potential problems at work with redundancy looming but Viv quickly becomes absorbed by her own day, creating an interesting effect that Kanji manages well to create a character who is present but somehow colourless.

There is a similar challenge for the younger actors with Archer Brandon at this performance as Viv and Kenny’s child (he will be alternating the role with Beatrice White) and has a key birthday scene in which Viv tries to teach him an important life lesson without considering the impact of her behaviour. Her final interaction is with Elaine played by Kayla Meikle as a fellow shoeless woman fallen on hard times that Viv meets in the park and represents how far Viv has to fall. This also offers the play’s most comic scenes as the pair awkwardly tussle over footwear and their relative superiority.

Some of Shoe Lady’s production decisions are a little curious, including the regular appearance of stagehands to deliver props and dab further gory mixtures onto Parkinson’s exposed foot. And while the purpose is to jolt the audience back to reality, drawing attention to the unreality of the scenario created while practically managing the changing scenes creates a jarring effect, intruding on the carefully constructed composition of Lamford’s staging. The talking curtains in the house sale scene are also a weird addition that doesn’t develop into anything more significant later in the story, and is left hanging in every sense.

Matthew Herbert’s piano composition adds to the increasing drama, creating tension and anxiety that integrates really effectively with Lamford’s multipurpose design and the overall tone of nonsensical unease that Featherstone and Crowe create. With a very short run of only three week at the Royal Court, Shoe Lady may only be an hour but this is an intriguing and well-considered examination of the social and domestic pressures placed on women to perform multiple and often contradictory roles in our society.

Shoe Lady is at the Royal Court until 21 March with tickets from £14. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.


Dance Nation – Almeida Theatre

Dance Nation - Almeida

September is upon us and at this time of year, as the night’s draw in and the first signs of autumn appear, our thoughts turn to dance. For the last 14 years, the BBC’s behemoth dance show Strictly Come Dancing has dominated our screens, guiding the viewer from early autumn to Christmas with endless paso doble’s, tangos and foxtrots. And as the celebrities for the 2018 series set to work, the Almeida Theatre’s new play about American pre-teen dance troupe competitions has coincidentally, or perhaps purposefully, been scheduled to capitalise on the annual return of dance fever.

Set predominantly in a dance studio in middle America, Dance Nation follows the members of a dance troupe who enter a series of national competitions in the hope of winning the overall championship. Led by “Dance Teacher Pat” who choreographs a brand new number evoking the life and spirit of Gandhi, he pushes the team to live-up to the school’s reputation for producing winners, using the power of dance to heal the world. As Connie and Zuzu land the leading roles, star dancer Amina is left on the side-lines, but as their bodies and minds develop are any of the girls destined for a career in dance?

While Barron’s play mimics its teenage charges in not feeling fully-formed, it clearly draws on a variety of influences. There is a coming-of-age feel to the narrative, exploring that awkward transition between childhood and becoming a young adult where the mind and the imagination feel streets ahead of the body. The girls frequently think and talk about sex, love and their changing physiology  in the down-time between sessions, but while they cringe and giggle about it, their bodies are far from ready for such adult experiences. Barron shows us this confusion in a striking scene from the middle of the play as three of the girls are shown simultaneously at home, one washing her blood-stained tights, one exploring her sexual responses and one still playing with toy horses.

Barron also explores this progress into adulthood through referenced to their increasingly competitive interactions with one another, belying the idea of them as a team, as well as their perception of the play’s unseen men. Ashlee (Kayla Meikle) has a forceful monologue in which she becomes increasingly aware of the male gaze appraising her 13-year old body and the defiance she feels she has to subdue. Likewise, as the pressure to win increases, the girls move seamlessly from congratulating each other’s successes to accusations of selfishness and arrogance, adopting cut-throat behaviours that signal the end of childhood. There’s even one nicely-handled flash-forward a decade on, as Connie (Manjinder Virk) celebrates her lasting friendship with Ashlee and the deep troubles they have shared in the ensuing years.

While old Broadway song and dance shows have been a nostalgic feature of the West End in recent years, with 42nd Street and An American in Paris among the revivals that have won plenty of plaudits, the roots of Clare Barron’s short play are actually in independent film, and it is here, rather than the stage, that the world of dancers, competition and ambition have been more purposefully explored. By merging examples of competitive dance with the behind-the-scenes locker-room drama of six girls and one boy on the cusp of adulthood, characters reveal their inner selves directly to the audience while participating in the rituals and rivalries of teenage life. Barron’s approach is reminiscent of the satirical documentary-style films such as I, Tonya, Best in Show and Strictly Ballroom that are driven by competition and the financial or talent barriers to individual ambition.

There is a purposefully grubby, unpolished look to Samal Blak’s design that picks out an underfunded and slightly careworn space. The rotating mirror and glitter curtained panels are just that bit too well used, the glass warped and stained, while Moritz Junge’s costume design for the competitor outfits have a cheap glitz, evoking the soulless conference rooms and halls where these events take place, dressed-up but tacky and a bit bleak. So much of that aesthetic is realistically drawn from the various documentaries we’ve seen on American child beauty pageants or the  “mockumentary” film referenced above.

But there’s also an influence from the teen movies about preparing for a finale competition where the central narrative focuses on the protagonists’ will to win, and the various impediments they must overcome to triumph. The Pitch Perfect series is a prime example but also either version of Hairspray and even High School Musical, essentially anything in which the cast grapple with personal development issues while artistically competing for some kind of unifying end goal. Barron’s characters and scenario are deliberately less glamorous than these big screen examples, but the underlying desire to explore the confusing search for identity and future purpose is certainly the same.

Where Dance Nation fails is in bringing all of these strands together in a meaningful and dramatically satisfying way. There is a lot happening in Barron’s production which manages to be both engaging and alienating at the same time, without quite resolving the dilemma it creates by attempting to wrap a philosophical discussion in a narrative frame. The scenes focused on the dance competition, rehearsals and locker-room interaction feel much stronger than the rest of the play, unified by the need to move the story along while exploring the perspectives of its young teenage protagonists. When Barron focuses on character, she creates plenty of meaningful exchanges, loaded with empathy that bring the audience into the story as we are asked to weigh-up the difficulty of supporting the morale of the whole team while creating space for Amina to achieve her potential, even if it means trampling on her friends.

Like Ella Hickson’s The Writer from earlier this year, this production is on shakier ground when it branches into the surreal or makes jarring attempts to deliver its feminist messages – those messages are visible in the rest of the play and could have been better woven into the central story. Barron wants to experiment with technique and spotlight individual characters, allowing them to talk directly to the audience outside of the core story. This is a way to draw attention to the writer’s purpose and to help the audience to connect with the experience being presented, but here they feel like digressions, like another show trying to break-out from the middle.

Ashlee’s monologue about objectification, intelligence and the power she feels lies ahead of her is a great speech, it’s truthful, impassioned and inspiring, but it’s not clear enough how it applies to the wider team competition story Barron is telling. Young women are sexualised and taught to judge themselves from an early age, but this needs to be reflected properly in the main plot to underscore Ashlee’s concerns, to show the audience that in practice this happens to these girls in how they’re asked to dress, the make-up they have to wear and the suggestive dance moves choreographed by their male teacher. But Barron doesn’t draw the inference through the show, so this becomes an untethered monologue.

Likewise, a (presumed) fantasy sequence in which the new dance first becomes overtly erotic and then turns into a cannibalistic horror-film equally makes no sense in the overall piece, nor does the final section chant which attempts empowerment and respect for the female body. Again, as a stand-alone sections, choreographed by Aline David, they could be interesting but their relation to the consuming nature of dance, the outcomes of the story we’re being told and the imagination of teenage girls is much more obscure and makes for a frustratingly uneven experience.

Dance Nation has a pleasingly diverse cast, including actors with a broad age range, where each convincingly plays a teenage character and collectively create a group dynamic in which the individuals must work together. There’s a fine balance between the last flourish of childishness and young girls wanting to convey an impression of being older, more mature than they are which comes across really well in all the performances. The dance sequences, like the visual design, are purposefully a little blocky and after an opening number that feels like a memory – evoking something of The Entertainer and the flashback sequences from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane – the subsequent choreography is designed to amuse with the deadly seriousness with which the team perform balanced against their overall lack of finesse.

With the plot and the message occasionally pulling the play’s construction in different directions, there is less time to fully explore the character traits and experiences that Barron introduces, leaving plenty of interesting ideas unexplored. Some fair better than others and Karla Crome’s Amina has the most to do in exploring the isolating consequence of genuine talent that separates her from the rest of the group and her best friend ZuZu. Crowe’s earnest delivery feels just right for a young woman, notably given less time for non-dance activities, struggling to fit in but unable to downplay her abilities.

As Zuzu, Ria Zmitrowicz is a shy and occasionally sulky presence, a girl desperate to do well but with less talent than she would like. There is a subplot here about whether talent is innate or can be shaped with the right mentor, but Zmitrowicz emphasises the growing disillusion with dance, a dreaming loner with some difficult years of self-discovery ahead. By contrast Virk’s Connie is more confident but her centrality to the Gandhi dance is soon side-lined in favour of other stories, and we’re only given one tantalising psychological insight as she returns to an empty house – do her parents not care, do they disapprove, or have they just forgotten? Teasing these circumstances out would give us more insight into why Connie’s is so keen to dance.

Not all the characters are permitted a homelife and Miranda Foster offers a series of sketches as three ‘Dance Moms’, ZuZu’s pushy former dancer, Luke’s cosy mother and Maeve’s supportive parent, but it’s not clear what point Barron wants to make. Among the rest of the characters Sarah Hadland’s Sofia is the most interested in her developing body, while Nancy Crane’s Maeve is still more child than young woman. While they have interesting conversations and represent particular issues, they don’t feel entirely complete.

The male dynamic is also rather underdeveloped. Apart from Irfan Shamji’s Luke who is the only boy in the dance troupe which is barely referenced, Dance Teacher Pat is a highly ambiguous character but not in the way he could be. Brendan Cowell presents a complex figure who pushes the team to perform, a believer in tough-love but why he’s teaching and his overall role in the story is less clear. Barron doesn’t make him a predator – neither of the male characters is designed to reflect the issues she raises in Ashlee’s monologue – but nor does he really act as a catalyst for the events that unfold.

Dance Nation is a bit of a strange beast, a play that mixes straightforward dramatic narrative with more disruptive techniques but doesn’t quite marry the two aspects successfully. Like Against last year, a little more development time may have resolved some of these issues, helping to align the story arc with deeper characterisation to create a clearer picture of the complicated transition into womanhood. With plenty of influences from across film, there’s still a lot to take from Barron’s play, and as annual dance fever arrives in the UK once again and mingles with a year of female-led stories, Dance Nation is timely if not quite a ten from Len.

Dance Nation is at the Almeida Theatre until 6 October and tickets start at £10. Follow this blog on Twitter: @culturalcap1 and Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.


%d bloggers like this: