Sunday 30 March 2008

NSDF 08 reviews - Strict Machine / When You Cry in Space Your Tears Go Everywhere

Tuesday was retro day in the Holbeck, offering back-to-back tributes to the seventies and eighties. Taken in reverse, Off Kilter offer a dance-based return to the student politics of the Thatcher years with a morality tale about a pair of career girls working in An Office. One, we are told in an excellent, witty Brecht/Weill-cum-Chicago opening song, is all about success-at-any-price and adopts “male” strategies to achieve it. Her friend doesn't, and is consequently left in the slipstream.

Having been explained the story is then danced through in the following forty minutes. Helen Goalen and Abby Greenland are more than proficient as dancers, and offer an enjoyably thumping soundtrack of sleazy electronica by way of accompaniment. Much of the actual choreography errs on the somewhat literal side and while deftly executed, often looks like nothing so much as two thirds of a Bananarama video.

More annoying is the absurd moralising of the narrative. This is knee-jerk anti-capitalism at its absolute worst, painting anyone who happens to work in an office as either rapacious monster or a hapless drone. The piece even offers a symbolic scene where Ambitious Spice takes off her skirt and put on a pair of trousers. Trousers! Imagine! For all this, from moment to moment Strict Machine is actually quite a fun, little piece - tightly performed and engaging.

Off on an entirely different planet is Tinned Fingers's When You Cry In Space Your Tears Go Everywhere – a lovely lo-fi, performance-piece constructed around childhood ideas of heroism, exploration (Arctic, mountain and space) and the strange realisation that “space is a bit seventies”. The five performers read lists into microphones, dress up one of their number in a paper cut-out mountaineering outfit, re-enact the Boney M bit from Touching the Void – considering at length their own worst song to have stuck in their heads as they lie dying. The also blow handfuls of paper-as-snow at each other (a motif fast-becoming the symbol of this year's festival). You get the general idea.

This is half an hour of hugely likeable observations and artsy mucking about, performed with an admirable degree of audience-responsive liveness. Tinned Fingers clearly know a thing or two about performance and have well and truly tapped the rich vein the runs from the Wooster Group through to Chris Goode and Melanie Wilson. Indeed, Ella Good's deadpan delivery is very similar to Wilson's own.

The exciting thing about the piece is the way in which, without appearing to make much effort at all, seamlessly pinpoints the cultural Zeitgeist of “post-futurism” (my invention) – essentially a feeling that can be summed up by the T-shirt slogan “This Was Supposed To Be The Future” - the idea that we have now passed all the major dates that, when we were growing up in the seventies and eighties, signified the future – Space 1999, 2000AD, 2001 A Space Odyssey etc. When You Cry... paints a picture of gently punctured childhood imaginings, and then offers a sense that in spite of this, everything is still kind of all right, really. This is a warm, clever, funny little show and one that suggests that Tinned Fingers have a very bright future of their own.

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