Dance Class

Andre Radmall
Giant Olive in association with Collide Theatre Company
Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Pippa Winslow and Kolade Agboke as Eva and Ronnie in Dance Class Credit: Ciaran Cunningham

At a medical conference, a slightly tipsy nurse propositions a psychiatrist who is at the microphone about to deliver a lecture on addiction. He handles her heckling, though disturbed by it as is suggested by the repeated cycle of note-checking and spectacle, manipulation which forms a mime to represent the lecture. Afterwards he agrees to a meeting and this one-hour show then charts their relationship through courtship and near disintegration.

This is a first play by Andre Radmall, himself a psychotherapist, though it seems he had an earlier theatre background, and he’s not just the playwright but the producer and also returns to acting to play the play’s psychiatrist Dr Stoker.

He seems to have done a good job with all three, for he has assembled three other actors, director Philip McKee and designer Maddy Sergeant who with him have created a piece that is theatrically effective. It is played against the black walls of the theatre with two folding chairs and a folding table that the actors setup as needed, atmosphere added by the lighting of Marie Kearney and the clever use of music.

Radmall has structured the play as a sequence of scenes, some very brief, that are snapshots of moments in the relationship of Tom and Eva (Pippa Winslow), the American nurse who becomes his wife. We learn only details, but significant ones. This is no cartoon strip presentation; the cast gets a chance to create real characters who can hint at sides that we may not see. What is missing is any clear idea of time scale, though short scenes give the impression of time moving quickly.

They are a couple who seem to be almost instantly attracted and are soon gazing out over what is probably London looking down on the city “at rivers of light with a filthy black river full of crap”, but it is not all smooth going. Sue likes dancing, and Pippa Windsor gives her the moves, but Tom is stuck in a sort of mechanical stamping with some Travolta pointing that is more fever than disco.

“I’m just a project to you” he suggests but the way they hold hands on the tube doesn’t suggest that, and so he proposes. They get married, plan on a baby, even start preparing things, are going to make a video record for the child, but it’s not happening. It is then they discover he’s got a sperm count that’s near non-existent. They find that difficult to handle and it is then that things start to go wrong, and their addictions begin. His is alcohol, hers salsa dancing.

She wants him to go dancing with her. He won’t so she takes his mother (who feels too old and has two left feet) who warns her to watch out for the sexy looking teacher. I totally believed in Kolade Agboke’s Ronnie, though I probably wouldn’t trust him. He not only makes him certainly sexy and moves like a dream but delivers a lesson so clearly that even I felt I could go away and salsa!

“I believe,” says Ronnie” that when you dance God joins in.” Certainly Eva finds escape when she’s dancing. Tom goes on making a video for the baby they are not able to have and visits his mother (Ellie Dickens). In this way we get his back-story and what may have begun to seem a play about Eva becomes more firmly centred on Tom.

This is not a play that digs very deeply and its plotting is very predictable, but it deals with the kind of emotions we can all share. Tom can’t deal with his problems until he learns more about his own past; there is a chilling sequence with Tom, in rapid repetitions swapping from psychiatrist to patient, that downbeat is countered by the joy, for the audience as well as for Eva, that comes from the dance and the music.

Radmall has an ear for natural conversation and can mix that with some stylish phrasing but this play uses much more than words and McKeer’s direction makes its disparate elements in differing styles fit smoothly together.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton