The Accountants

Keith Khan (director) and Terence Lewis, Mahrukh Dumasia and XIE Xin (choreographers)
Factory International
Aviva Studios, Manchester

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The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Accountants Credit: Tristram Kenton

Dance is a physical rather than verbal art form. This imposes limits on the complexity of the stories which can be told via dance, prompting classical companies to employ narratives such as fairy tales with which audiences are likely to be familiar. Contemporary companies like Rambert have recently incorporated spoken dialogue into their productions and Free Your Mind, which opened Aviva Studios, made extensive use of recorded extracts from the movies upon which the dance was based. With The Accountants, Keith Khan pushes the boundaries of dance even further.

Two choreographers, Mahrukh Dumasia and XIE Xin, are involved in the dance and, as it has a two-act structure, it is reasonable to assume they will take an act apiece. Actually, they work together on the show as a whole. The level of co-operation and lack of ego this requires is staggering to contemplate, but it certainly ensures a memorable production.

The Accountants is a hybrid / multimedia production involving extensive use of spoken dialogue and text messages along with stunning images (from idontloveyouanymore) projected onscreen. The story concerns two characters who never appear onstage but are represented verbally by voiceovers and visually by text messages. British-Chinese Liam (vocals by Josh Hart) embarks on a journey to India and China to work out his true identity and purpose in life while communicating by text with his favourite Aunty Kash (vocals by Shobna Gulati), a British Indian woman who has never left Manchester. However, despite having undertaken such an epic quest, Liam is embarrassed to find his mind is full of mundane subjects, namely accountants.

Aviva Studios commits fully to the multimedia concept. On entering the venue, the audience is quizzed on details like frequency of visits to the theatre or consumption of tea. The statistics are fed into displays which run across the onstage screen. Facial recognition software is employed to scan the audience and, on shots displayed onscreen, indicate the emotions they are experiencing. Strangely, "I wish they’d turn that bloody camera off" is not an option.

The choreography, by Mahrukh Dumasia and XIE Xin, takes us inside Liam’s conflicted mind where two competing accountancy firms explore society’s desire to quantify the world. Director Keith Khan has also designed the set, which divides the stage into two areas so statistical information on India and China runs across the screen to the rear. Around the margins of the stage, text messages between Liam and his Aunty are displayed, as are questions which, depending on your mood, might be profound or irritating.

Act one comes at the audience in a rush of sensation. As events are playing out in Liam’s mind, there is a dreamlike quality, but the choreography takes inspiration from the world of work. As in the stock exchange, rapid, aggressive arm movements are employed by the sharp-suited, 12-person troupe. Mobile phones and tablets are held like weapons or objects of worship.

Whether at work or a same-sex disco in Goa, there is a ritualised atmosphere. The dancers are in tight groups, occasionally breaking off into pairs but never into solo routines. The grim normalisation of the workplace is reflected as individual dancers are manipulated into robotic poses by colleagues trying to establish the perfect behaviour pattern of an accountant.

The choreography is combative as much as co-operative. As The Accountants work themselves to the point of exhaustion, colleagues step forward to revive them but in an abrupt rather than pleasant manner.

Act one generates a degree of sensory overload in the audience. With the stunning dancing and breathtaking visuals, one begins to wish a few elements could be dropped (my vote is for the intrusive voiceovers which add little to the production) to enable greater concentration on the aspects which really matter. Director Keith Khan turns out to be a cunning soul and anticipates this somewhat Philistine opinion—act two is almost pure dance without any visual or verbal interruptions.

Act two takes place in a kind of limbo in which mobile telephone transmissions are blocked—the signals to the side of the stage flicker but do not come through until the end of the act. The rear screen rises to reveal the massive Aviva stage in full—right back to the exit doors. The dancers sit around like survivors of some disaster as if they have lost all purpose.

Gradually, the dancers begin to move, stripping away all signs of their profession—sharp suits and even wigs—to return to their ethnic origins. Although the minimalist tone of the choreography is retained from act one, the second act has a more ethnic vibe, the music and poses subtly reflecting Indian and Chinese traditions. After the full-on rush of the first act, it is almost relaxing to be able to concentrate on the discipline and ability of the dancers.

The Accountants confounds expectations, being both radical and respectful of tradition, and so offers both challenges and satisfaction to all types of audience as long as they have an open mind.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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