Review: The Financial Times | Newson Triumphs Again

Can We Afford This

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Newson Triumphs Again

REVIEW ... Queen Elizabeth Hall
by Clement Crisp
The Financial Times | Friday Sep 29 2000

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"Blessed are the Average" says the illuminated sign that features in Lloyd Newson's newest staging for his DV8 troupe. His company, enlarged, opened this autumn's Dance Umbrella at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a work commissioned for the Sydney Olympics Arts Festival, and the piece is very fine.

Over the past decade, Newson has cast a cold eye on sexuality, on emotional subterfuge, on the despairs and psychic role-playing that he sees as destroying happiness, even equilibrium, in social behaviour. But his chill gaze is counterbalanced by a sympathy for what produces the impersonations of normality and the average which he so excoriates. In his new can we afford this it is the subtitle "the cost of living" that indicates the real matter of the action. Here are the pretences that are the currency of life, the appearances which, like those cinematic sets that are no more than a façade deep, bolster up the existence of the supposedly and blessedly average, and cost so dear.

Newson's procedures are much as in the past. There is a dazzlingly good set: a sloping cavern of sage-green felt — the QEH stage transformed — which can change shape, reveal depths, provide oubliettes and secret exits, offer grand opportunities for theatrical magic.

In one sequence, projections of clouds turn this arena into a nightmare landscape through which strides a Bosch-like, Dali-esque creature formed by two performers. Variously awful popular music is accompaniment: that abominable ditty "Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me" becomes a vitirol attack in these surroundings as the cast bounce, inanely sunny, around the stage. There is also especially composed and effective music as relief from this lurid wallpaper.

The cast features some Australian performers, notable Paul Capsis, who has the bright falsetto of Tiny Tim and even more copious locks, and is eventually flayed of every theatrical pretension in heartrending fashion. ("I can't see you, but I love you", he carols to the audience.) For the action, disjunct but subliminally taut, is about self-delusion and loneliness quite as much as about how people may delude others.

A key performer is David Toole, born without legs, whom we have admired with the CandoCo ensemble. In duets, or as an extraordinarily mobile trunk supported by his strong arms, Toole is both tragic and fiercely comic, seeming to grow from the torso of another dancer, or inspiring vivid dance sequences that are explored by other men in the cast.

In a work about social and physical lies, he cannot lie, and becomes all the more powerful because of this. This piece is more dance-rich than some of Newson's stagings, and the dance is uniformly apt, sure. A night scene in which men stalk each other in a park has the same edge of erotic danger as the encounters in Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.

There are also terrifying verbal exchanges in which words are either masks for despair or — even more dangerous — scalpels to cut to the heart. Toole is subjected to a ferocious inquisitiion by an angry inadequate chap who has earlier failed to win the attentions of a girl. Toole is mute under this barrage of intrusive questions. Both performers are superb.

Humour there is abundantly, and sharp it is. Eddie Kay plays a Scots wide-boy, master of fearful asides and headbutting as dance. The wildly unlikely goes hand in hand with the too-dreadfully probable. An inattentive husband, berated by his wife ("Listen to me when I'm talking to you"), is suddenly forced by her into a grubby sexual encounter.

The piece is, ultimately, caustic, despairing, and it ends with a man shooting himself. Yet there is such nervous and psychic energy to it, and there is the counterbalance of Newson's oddly generous understanding, that you feel braced rather than saddened.

Performances are everywhere excellent. The production is visually superlative and makes most imaginative use of the set. For everyone concerned, great admiration. To the makers of the programme book — a barely legible and affected oblong of modishness, printed on greaseproof paper — no thanks at all.

 

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