Saturday 11 January 2014

The Day Shall Declare It – 35 Marylebone High St

[Site-dance recession Williams]

Hosted by site-something property guardians Theatre Delicatessen, what new Anglo-American company Wilderness are offering is a kind of mash-up of some bits of Tennessee Williams shorts interspersed with some bits of on-the-spot reporting by Pulitzer Prize-winning American broadcaster Studs Terkel themed around the great depression. The style of presentation is basically site-(un)sympathetic dance theatre. That is to say, we all stand around in three (very cold) rooms, decked out to look like the rooms where the characters are, and the performers run the lines while performing elaborate dance-theatre routines: imagine Frantic Assembly in your living room, when the boiler’s gone out, basically. Or a tenement block Punchdrunk.

In theory, it’s a pretty great idea. It strikes me as interesting that Tennessee Williams seems to be enjoying a new lease of life as a go-to destination for more experimental theatremakers – see also: The Hotel Plays, Secret Theatre #Show2, presumably Benedict Andrews’s forthcoming Streetcar and of course Sebastian Nübling’s not-experimental-at-all-in-German-terms Orpheus Descending.

Wilderness’s justification – that Williams speaks to a similarly economically bleak age – makes a lot of sense. Thing is, what actually happens in Williams’s plays (or here playlets) never really feel like consequences of economic circumstance so much as of extremes of madness, alcohol abuse and repressed sexuality. Of course the characters do have their economic circumstances, theur money worries, their class – it is interesting that in the first section here the male character (played/danced by Chris Polick) is almost a proto-Stanley in both the way his new wife describes him, and the way he reacts – but really, you get the feeling that many of Williams’s characters could have all the money in the world and it wouldn’t help them with their problems one bit. Blanche would still be getting older, drinking more and getting madder, no matter how many posh homes she owned.

Here, there’s also the added distraction that it proves (at least in these instances) surprisingly difficult to follow the emotional through-lines of the scenes at the same time as absorbing the – actually rather impressive – choreography. I think I more-or-less followed the first scene, totally lost the thread of the second, and am not sure I even began to get a handle on the third. There is something about the way in which the scenes have been fractured (and I *like* fracture. *A lot*) that makes them ‘theoretically great’ a lot more than ‘actually watchable’. I wonder if some of that feeling is slightly down to my vague antipathy both to being cold and to standing up to watch theatre, though. If so, I apologise. I’m plainly not the ideal audience member and a lot of other people might get a lot more from this if they are more warm-blooded and not-sitting-friendly.

There is much to admire here, in the abstract, though. Beata Csikmak’s scenic design is interesting and varied – especially in the last, most “abstract” room, in which a pair of lovers (Anthony Nikolchev and Wilderness artistic director Annie Saunders) dance more of their desolation, echoed by roughly painted blue walls, a marooned roll-top bathtub and hundreds of jam-jars half filled with sand. That said, there is also something oddly reminiscent of Natalie Abrahami’s similar text-and-choreography show Unbroken, although The Day... does take the dance-text relationship to a much higher level.

Even if not an unqualified success, it does feel like the company were actually attempting a much more complex relationship between speech and movement than I remember seeing attempted before. There is a tendency in British dance-theatre for it, at any given moment, to be *either* the dance bit *or* the speaking bit. Possibly for the simple reason demonstrated here, that it’s intensely difficult to be both brilliantly at the same time. However, this attempt convinced me that this is certainly an experiment worth pursuing further.

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