Can We Afford This
REVIEW ... Queen Elizabeth Hall
by Judith Mackrell
The Guardian | Thursday Sep 21 2000
DV8's latest work, can we afford this was actually paid for by the Sydney Olympics Arts Festival, where it has just received its debut. But the cost to which it refers isnt that of producing dance theatre, but the price we pay for competing in a society obsessed by image. The work's huge and talented cast spend 90 minutes desperately shaping up, showing off and sometimes playing dirty with their rivals. The references to the Olympics are unmissable. But what gives the work its brutal edge is that personal disabilities and frailties are also part of the competition.
In a confessional line-up that is strongly reminiscent of a Pina Bausch production, the performers offer up their eccentricities and pain, like victims of some gruesomely inverted beauty competition. "I'm 72," states Diana Payne Myers, the sags and wrinkles of her tiny body exposed by a bathing suit, "and I've had four lovers under 30". We laugh encouragingly, but when another man baldly introduces himself with the announcement that he has AIDS, our titters falter and die.
Then there is David Toole, who has no legs but is possessed of a disorienting virtuosity. As he leaps and glides around the stage on his long, strong arms, at times addressing the audience with a cynically flirtatious wit, we start to feel cosy with his disability. He's extraordinarily gifted and funny: he doesn't need our pity. But when another performer starts hounding him with the questions we squirmingly want to ask — "Do you have a dick down there? Were you born without legs?" — we're forced to recognise the humiliation Toole risks daily.
And it's a humiliation known to all performers. Paul Capsis, camp and ageing, is a vision of showbiz shame as his hysterical tactics for wooing the audience start to look increasingly forlorn. Dancer Viven Wood tells us that since she's 40 and in her last show, she doesn't care how little she is paid. Lawrence Goldhuber is simply fat. He weighs 330lbs, and by way of apology he fixes us with the unwaveringly jolly smile required of the overweight.
Not that this is a freak show. Not only are the 17 members of the cast talented dancers, singers and comedians, they portray extraordinarily unsentimental, sharp-featured personae. They give us acting of a high order, and director Lloyd Newson has done an impressive job eliciting it. The problem is that he has too much material. Most performers appear on stage so briefly that we barely connect with them. And the work deliberately eschews the kind of formal structure that would knit the cast into some larger imaginative world, some larger journey. Our sense of being voyeurs isn't enough. Though we may momentarily feel warmth, discomfort or shame, our emotions are rarely more than pinpricks. can we afford this is very, very entertaining but it doesn't draw blood.