The Banquet

Protein Dance
Choreographed and directed by Bettina Strickler and Luca Silvestrini
Newcastle Playhouse

Regular readers know of my aversion to categorising or pigeon-holing work, the mania to assign something to a category and thus feel we have understood it, and its corollary, the rejection of anything which does not fit neatly into a chosen hole.

The Banquet is a case in point. It's produced and performed by Protein Dance, so it must be a dance piece, right? Ah, but it has a more or less linear narrative. Ah, it must be physical theatre! Wait a moment: there's text, so it must be some form of drama. But just another moment: it has singing. It's musical theatre, then!

It's the sort of piece which has the pigeon-holers running round in ever-decreasing circles, so let's just settle for saying that The Banquet is a piece of theatre which takes a look beneath the surface of human life and interaction and reveals the unpleasantness beneath. It's the theatrical equivalent of turning over a stone and watching (and shuddering at) the seething life which is normally hidden from view.

That metaphor of the overturned stone is deliberately chosen, for the show begins, in low blue light, with slithering lifeforms emerging from the primeval slime and wriggling their way across stage, gradually becoming more and more advanced until they become fully human. Adam and Eve make a brief appearance before, on a set of wonderfully distorted perspective (designed by Dick Bird), we meet modern humanity in all its glory, including a totally obnoxious Sloane Ranger

Gradually we are led, under the guidance of teacher/master of ceremonies/narrator/commentator Richard Strange (he of punk band Doctors of Madness fame), to see how we have really travelled a very small difference from that primeval slime.

This should horrify, sicken, appal, disgust, but it doesn't, for the whole piece is imbued with such a tremendous sense of humour that the audience laughed aloud. Very Chekhovian: is there anything more tragic than being ridiculous?

The international cast - Benjamin Dunks (Australia), Tasha Gilmore (England), Luca Silvestrini (Italy), Esther Weisskopf (Switzerland) and, of course, Richard Strange (but he is not a dancer) - convince throughout, whether as primeval single-celled organisms or modern "civilised" people.

Unfortunately this short tour is almost over - they are at Phoenix Arts in Leicester on 12th February and that's it - but if it is revived (it was commissioned by The Place, s may well return there), go and see it!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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