Play Without Words

Matthew Bourne
RNT Lyttelton
(2002)

This is the second wordless play in the Lyttelton Transformation season after The Adventures of the Stoneheads. It is a cross between a modern dance piece and a straight play and comes with the impeccable credentials and regular team that comprises Adventures in Motion Pictures, best known for their ballet work.

The set, designed by Lez Brotherston, is wonderful and helps Matthew Bourne and his cast to capture a true feel of early 1960s London. It has buildings and buses of the era, and the upstairs and downstairs of a steamy, claustrophobic house. The make-up, body language and facial expressions are familiar from films of that era and the plot owes much to Joseph Losey's film The Servant, based on a novella by Robin Maugham. Bourne intensifies the feeling of time and place with cultural references, for example to The Avengers and Carnaby Street fashions.

The parts are shared with two or three performers playing each. This gives them the opportunity to offer different views on the same situation and is particularly effective where love and hate combine. The relationship between the James Fox master and Dirk Bogarde sinister servant gains much from this. Similarly the very sexy scenes where the master(s) is/are seduced by the maid(s) and the snooty girlfriend(s) meet(s) the cad(s) in Soho work extremely well in duplicate or triplicate.

By contrast, the multiple characters are also used on occasion for emphasis, as when the distress of one woman who has lost her virtue is trebled.

The play is largely built on a series of vignettes, the best of which include the seduction scenes as the simmering sex surfaces and also a beautiful parallel between a striptease and its opposite. To understand this it is necessary to see it. This, in particular, encapsulates the great wit that runs through the production.

The main strength of the piece is its excellent depiction of the era and the way that the class-distinctions that had existed for hundreds of years were becoming blurred and then breaking down. The choreography and Terry Davies' jazzy music together with dance performances with a strong dose of acting, combine to show the microcosmic power shifts that prefigured something far more significant for British society.

This show will appeal to all Adventures in Motion Pictures fans and may well introduce a wider audience to their work. It is far more than simply a dance piece and with only occasional dips manages to entertain and to keep up a tremendous pace.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher