A Night with Thick & Tight

Daniel Hay-Gordon and Eleanor Perry
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells
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When I invited a friend along to share A Night with Thick and Tight, I warned her that it might not be “her thing”. Her response was that she had no idea what this "thing" was about. And if I’m really honest, neither did I.

I know that both members of the troupe, Daniel Hay Gordon and Eleanor Perry, met training at the Rambert and say that dance is at the backbone of everything they create. I know that it’s got physical theatre, mime, lip-syncing and queer performance thrown together to create a bubbling mash-up of crazily weird vignettes. And I know that the duo feature famous celebs “who’s paths never crossed in real life.” I still don’t know what it all means, but whatever it’s about, or meant to be about, I love it.

Showing as part of the London International Mime Festival, the opening act introduces us to a duet where Hay-Gordon plays Miss Havisham and Perry embodies tiara-laden Queen Victoria. They had me at Miss Havisham, but, paired with the Queen, I’m literally craning my neck to get closer to the stage.

Faces whitened, teeth yellow and eyes that sparkle menacingly into the stage lights, it’s like Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca hooked up with Ru Paul in an abandoned ballroom (if they hadn’t been Queen Vic and Miss H, that is) all looming shadows, screeches and conspiracy as thick as London’s pea soup fog.

Hay Gordon wears a dress but bears forth proudly his hairy, masculine chest, while Perry is beyond terrifying in her black Halloween get-up. The unlikely duo shudder and shake in physical responses to discordant sounds that can best be described as contemporary dance on mind-altering drugs. This piece is, after all, described in the programme as a “monstrous modernist ballet set to Meissen’s Turangalila Symphony.”

And just when things look really bleak, the lip-syncing to soundtrack kicks in with hilariously incongruous clips from Dynasty, Eastenders and Hollywood classics. The effect is wildly funny and jarringly out of place in amongst the gothic gloom.

Then there’s the second duet. The Princess and the Showgirl puts Marilyn Monroe in partnership with Princess Diana, teetering across the stage in stilettos and tight suits. This time, Hay-Gordon is without wig, while Perry is a dead cert doppelgänger for the Princess. Same haircut, same bone structure, as luck would have it. Decked with string of pearls and delicate posture, it’s as if she’s been resurrected from beyond the pale. While one woman was a celluloid sex goddess, the other a royal, both experienced the brutally invasive media fascination around their lives.

While, logically, I tell myself that I am encountering a man cavorting around the stage as Monroe, I believe his interpretation of her plight and it’s here that the work is infused with a real sadness, behind all the japes and comic touches. Hay Gordon’s eyes look like Monroe’s. So he’s not a blue-eyed blonde, but there’s such an expressive and astute observation of the starlet's physical language that her vulnerability is palpable.

There’s another piece sandwiched in the middle of these duets and this is Radical Daughters, Julie Cunningham’s curious impression of the artists, stepsisters and lovers Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who survived Nazi persecution. While not traditionally a duet, as she’s going solo, the dancer does play both parts in one body. Confused? Well as far-fetched as it sounds, it works because of the neat execution of Cunningham’s high kicks, hops and falls, defining clean lines and boundaries.

You see tonight is A Night with Thick and Tight and anything, even the most impossible, is made possible in this mime, come dance, come lip-syncing romp with a deep pools of sadness lingering beyond the surface humour.

Rachel Nouchi