We continue our coverage of the VAULT Festival this week with three shows – Yann Allsopp’s dance-without-dance show The End of Dance, Marietta Kirkbride’s scintillating script about the battle against gentrification in The Long Trick and Gemma Arrowsmith’s love letter to our blue planet in Earthling:
The End of Dance by Yann Allsopp
The premise of The End of Dance is straightforward enough – in fictional Britain, a bill totaling the length of one sentence has been passed that bans all dance. But when you think a little more, all the questions start popping up – what exactly IS considered dance? Can we dance in nightclubs? Can we do a little jig while walking the dog?
Local MPs Colin (Yann Allsopp), Nigella (Rebecca Kenny) and Liz (Sophie Winter) are here to help. Themselves unhappy with the bill, the MPs attempt to seek understanding from the ground level, and at the same time, exact change step by step to override the bill and make dance legal again. It’s easy to think that you haven’t gotten your money’s worth here, after all, audiences paid to attend and watch…well, dancing. And when that’s outlawed, the MPs have to find clever ways to tiptoe around it while fighting the good fight.
More than anything, The End of Dance ends up becoming an exercise in exploring movement. From picketing in hilarious slo-mo, to having to explain each individual step of a dance one would do if allowed to, the show ends up becoming oddly metaphysical, and a reflection on the very nature of dance itself. Passing commentary on terrible bills in general that should never have been passed, in addition to asking questions about rights and whether it is the elite, the skilled or the masses that deserve to dance, The End of Dance is all about protesting within means, fighting for a cause while attempting to stay legal, and realizing that one’s nature can never truly be pinned down and killed.
The MPs themselves are somewhat ridiculous. Visibly poised and controlled, their best attempts to resist dancing are foiled by their inner desires, with Liz breaking out into a wild show of emotion near the start when the MPs attempt to demonstrate the new Dos and Don’ts of dancing. Colin begins skipping furiously while in the middle of reciting a mantra, recalling his family’s strong ties to dance and uses the skipping to expend the energy instead of dancing, while Nigella, the only one in heels, hides behind a gigantic poppy that spans her entire body and performs a flapper-inspired dance obscured by her costume. No one can resist the draw to get physical and move their body, not even when the spirit of Margaret Thatcher appears in the form of a voiceover and attempts to foil their plans.
When all their peaceful plans fail, there is only one thing that the MPs have left that they haven’t tried, and that is to dance of course, completely free and with wild abandon. The End of Dance manages to finally deliver what audiences came in for with its spectacular final act, where the MPs shed their tight, grey suits for colourful leotards as they fly across the stage performing various dance moves from ballet to hip-hop, sometimes serious, sometimes laugh out loud funny. Although not necessarily polished or perfected, the idea behind the choreography is obvious, in that there is a joy and inevitability in dance, that it is the purest form of expression and possibly the most effective means of communication and protest where words fail to convince the authorities.
All in all, The End of Dance is a celebration of self-expression and how it cannot be held back. It serves as a commentary on the nature of protest, and how one must take more extreme measures when normal ones won’t do. And above all, The End of Dance is relevant while also being rather funny, with one of the most unique choreographers you can hope to see in a ‘dance’ performance. Stay till the end for a surprise from Yann – you’ll be left whooping and cheering for these MPs who just can’t stop the beat.
The End of Dance plays at Brick Hall (The Vaults) till 26 Feb. Tickets available here. To keep up with the show, follow Yann Allsopp on Twitter @YannAllsopp and @ColinLocalMP
The Long Trick by Marietta Kirkbride in Association with Bucket Club
With rising prices of residences and increasing disenfranchisement with small town living, a play like The Long Trick was bound to come out at some point or the other. But little did we expect just how powerful and well done this one was.
The Long Trick follows three main characters: 14 year old Kelsey (Martha Seiginior), her father Tristan (Darcy Vanhinsburgh) and her temporary French tutor Gale (Jessica Murrain). The three of them live on a boat moored on the Helford River in the small Cornish village of Helford. All three characters are as flawed as they are believable, and extremely well-written. Introverted Kelsey loves archaic music and goes through all the wonders and challenges of a young adult feeling completely out of place, Tristan uses a gardening business as a front for his real job – stealing items from holiday houses and selling them off, but still loves his daughter very much, using the money to donate back to the community. Finally, the impossibly cool Gale embodies the very definition of a modern day hipster as a vegan, a person who travelled Europe over months, a rave attendee, a pseudo-mother/big sister, and also an anti-gentrification activist, resorting to extreme measures to help her cause.
The play’s main plot revolves around a grand heist when Tristan receives a mysterious email from French art dealers hoping to enlist his help in stealing a valuable painting from a holiday home on the beach, offering a handsome payment in return. With the money, the once poor family could go on holiday and live like rich people for once and not worry where their next meal comes from. But when the anti-gentrification protest group ups their efforts, Tristan is filled with fear and trepidation, and suspects something is amiss.
I cannot emphasise enough how well written The Long Trick is. Marietta Kirkbride seems to be a master of the written word, as the story itself has all the makings of a local legend – small in scale but epic in spirit. Cornwall is a perfect location to set the piece, teetering just on the edge of the fantastic as a popular holiday destination while remaining steadfastly grounded in the reality of actual people living there. Kirkbride’s characters are well fleshed out, and over the course of the brief one hour play will all undoubtedly endear themselves to viewers as fully formed, three dimensional beings, expertly brought to life by the restrained yet sincere performance by the actors. Of particular note is Darcy Vanhinsburgh, whose portrayal of Tristan is deeply layered, from struggling single father to a man who’s too afraid to do more than what’s necessary, who plays well against Martha Seiginior’s hopeful youth. Jessica Murrain ‘dressed in daft clothing’ emanates a cool, confident exterior that makes up the pillar of her character, while also showing a softer side when she lets loose and has fun.
Nel Crouch’s direction ensures that Kirkbride’s poetic script is never lost in action. Although it takes a moment to get used to the lyrical language, Crouch handles the pacing with aplomb, and there’s never a dull moment onstage. I personally was sat riveted in my seat, hungry for each new line. Cornwall is transformed into something absolutely magical by the designers as well, with Aaron May’s sound design and Joe Price’s lighting, as well as Claire Ingleheart’s jaunty as well as atmospheric vocal arrangements. Although Rebecca Jane Wood’s set is simple, consisting of a number of brown wooden platforms, it’s effective at forming impressions of objects and places, just enough to allow imagination to take hold and fill in the gaps while also allowing Crouch to play with levels.
Without a doubt, The Long Trick is one of the best plays I’ve seen at this year’s VAULT Festival. At the back of my head, I kept thinking that something would almost certainly go wrong, but the ending managed to resolve itself much better than I could have hoped for, and I was more than satisfied at the overall outcome. There is an urgency to this play that lends power to its message, and with its top notch script, The Long Trick is a must watch, made even more so by the fantastic direction and performance. An absolute delight from start to end.
The Long Trick plays at the Pit (The Vaults) till 26 Feb. Tickets available here. To keep up with them, check out their website or follow them on Twitter @MazKirkBride and @WeAreBucketClub
Gemma Arrowsmith: Earthling
Gemma Arrowsmith loves space. From her NASA backpack to her space shuttle necklace, her clothing alone is evidence enough. In Earthling however, she focuses not on the hypothetical aliens light years away, but the curious creatures around us – humans.
Placing herself as an alien life form doing a presentation about homo sapiens, Arrowsmith sets up her show to portray her spectrum of character sketches in between slides. Arrowsmith’s characters are surprisingly thoughtful, often requiring a certain level of intelligence to fully comprehend the joke, from death’s ferryman Charon as a chatty Uber driver, to shameless YouTube makeup channel celebrities plugging their products. But the bottom line is, they’re mostly very funny. Although not always laugh out loud, they leave plenty of food for thought, and will at least provoke a giggle. Arrowsmith’s sketch about a proposed new iTV reality show titled Win Your Parent’s Life struck a particularly strong chord, as she used it to bring up issues of inflation and debt the current generation lives with. Arrowsmith’s jokes are almost always relevant, and hit the nail right on the head when it comes to issues we’re concerned with.
Arrowsmith is also somewhat a master of the slideshow. The photos chosen are always perfectly curated, and a prime source for laughter throughout the show apart from her performance, including the photo of her younger self pictured above. Arrowsmith’s imagination is the most powerful weapon at her disposal and she fires her shots with deadly accuracy and a lethal dose of creativity. Basing the rest of her show on the Voyager mission where NASA decided to send information into space, her performance educates the audience on what NASA sent into space, and wonders if there might have been better options out there, pointing out travesties such as missing out on sending The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun to space or anatomically accurate photos of the human body.
Earthling even manages to hit that highly coveted spot much comedy rarely hopes to do – the emotional twang, felt when Arrowsmith plays a sequence showing audiences what people answered in a survey about what they would have sent to space in the Voyager, celebrating the 40th anniversary since it was launched. Some answers are guffaw worthy, while others form an immediate connection and mutual agreement. One particularly noteworthy segment involves Arrowsmith playing a soundclip of Ann Druyan speaking about her husband, famed astronomer Carl Sagan, who fell in love with her over a phone call.
Ultimately, Earthling is Arrowsmith’s love letter to the blue planet and the human race as a whole, as much as she pokes fun at it with her glorious accents and bizarre, unique characters. There’s a glowing sense of pride for our species, warts and all, as Arrowsmith delves into the very best and worst of it and concludes on a hopeful note. Earthling is not your usual comedy, relying on the enthusiasm of a self-proclaimed space geek and hitting hard with intelligent jokes, and will leave you with awe at how far we’ve come, and all the great and terrible things we’ve accomplished in our time on Earth.
Gemma Arrowsmith: Earthling plays at the Studio (The Vaults) till 26 Feb. Tickets available here. To keep up with Gemma, follow her on Twitter @Mmaarrow, and check out her YouTube channel. You can also fill out her survey and possibly get featured in her show HERE