The Monocle

Choreographer Mathieu Geffré
Rendez-Vous Dance
Northern Stage

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Jemima Colin and Zara Phillips Credit: Rhiannon Banks
Jemima Colin Ruth Howard, Natassa Argyroupoulou and Alyssa Lisle Credit: Rhiannon Banks
The ensemble Credit: Rhiannon Banks

Rendez-Vous Dance, led by Mathieu Geffré, is a North-East-based dance company highlighting LGBTQIA+ stories; they create theatrical, beautifully staged dance performances touring widely here and abroad using striking, exciting dance and staging. The Monocle, commissioned by Made in The Northeast, had its original première in February 2022.

This new première at Northern Stage 2 was a thrill—more dangerous, more skilled, more focused, a richly shaped work. The Monocle is a two-act performance that centres on a secret lesbian club in Paris opened between the wars, a safe space for lesbians. The set by Helen Herbert is suggestive, a tiny club stage, the entrance doors and the bar. It felt cramped in Stage 2 but that was almost an asset, enabling us to feel squashed into the same club, giving an immersive feeling, with some customers seated on stage. This dusty, intimate space is reigned over by Lola, superbly and darkly danced by Alyssa Lisle.

The club entertainer is chanteuse Imogen Banks, who is quite simply delicious—really skilled with an evocative voice and presence. She keeps the show rolling even through the interval, introducing the six dancers Alyssa Lisle, Coralie Calfond, Jemima Colin, Natassa Argyropoulou, Ruth Howard and Zara Phillips, as if they are her band members. Alongside her was BSL interpreter Caroline Ryan, a fine character in herself. All together a diverse and powerful cast.

Lola opens the club and the customers arrive one by one and are searched as they enter. The opening ensemble dance to "The Monocle" song is tight, almost a challenge to the audience—this is who we are!

A newcomer, a young girl dressed in a sailor’s outfit, arrives—she’s not accepted immediately but her joyous and suggestive dance on the mini club stage breaks the ice.

The dancers, all very strong in their own right with clearly delineated characters, form passing relationships, drink, flirt, fight and bond. There’s a fabulous virtuosic drinking dance round and on the bar in act 1. These are boisterous and sensual individuals and there’s much laughter and passion and the cast gave their all.

The music composed by James Keane is reminiscent of the 1930s era, but sometimes raw and dissonant, evoking the transgressive and difficult nature of the times and the danger of being sexually different.

The fate of The Monocle Club becomes clear with the advent of World War II, the bombing and destruction primarily suggested outside the door through lighting by Josh Harriette. The monster of fascism / Nazism, a threatening, leather-coated, masked dancer appears and, like so much culture and life, the fate of the club is sealed—it must close.

The final scene shows Lola alone—we’re left with feelings of pain but not hopelessness.

With the inventive lighting—the whole auditorium is club lit for some scenes and costumes by Nate Gibson that evoke the characters and still allow for lots of fine dancing—this production looks and sounds very good.

Geffré also has a fine group of collaborators that have supported and enriched the whole revival: dramaturg Andrew Gardiner, Hedley Sugar Wells, LGBTQIA+ historian, consultant Florence Tamagne, production manager Rachel Shipp.

Finally the pre-show foyer ‘surprise’ was irresistible, and the entire evening, including post-show discussion felt thought-through—such a joy.

Try to get along to one of the remaining performances of this immersing and compelling show.

Remaining tour dates: Lakeside Arts, Nottingham (16 April), Riley Theatre, Leeds (27 April), Wilton’s Music Hall, London (17 May), DanceEast, Ipswich (7 June), Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham (13 June), Enable US, Sheffield (15 June), Exeter Northcott (26 June) and Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham (28 June).

Reviewer: Dora Frankel

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