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Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words is a richly drawn portrait of social class and relationship breakdown in 1960s London. Full of lust and heartbreak, this production - which Bourne has revisited following its 2002 premiere at the National Theatre - is a revelation in dance, exploring the themes, emotions and plot using starkly telling movement and choreography.
Bold gestures and bodily interactions tell of what words cannot often convey; the intensity of feeling, the jarring deceptions of our thoughts, and the depth of our desires. Whilst this may sound like wishy washy jargon, describing a show like this really does present a challenge, since it plays on the fact that words are often inadequate tools which cannot truly reveal the truths that lurk behind our daily facade.
Our protagonists are the gawky Anthony and his posh fiancée Glenda. These sprightly young hopefuls fall victim to the three lower class characters (servant Prentice, housemaid Sheila, and sexual predator Speight) who manage to worm their way into the relationship, wreacking psychological havoc and physical yearning along the way. “ Bold gestures and bodily interactions tell of what words cannot often convey ”
Perhaps the most ingenious part of Bourne's concept is the decision to have two or three dancers representing each character, each with subtly different personalities which inevitably lead them to starkly different outcomes in their misdemeanours. Each of these characters interact in their separate worlds, sharing the same space with their alter-egos, yet neither acknowledging or influencing them. Whilst this can make some scenes a little too busy at times, it's a useful means of portraying the frenzied confusion that characters Anthony and Glenda often experience.
Lez Brotherstone's set design is also a revelation; rich in detail, with different elements of the London skyline - telephone booths, flat windows, street lamps - sticking out at jagged angles. With this, the scene is set for the centre stage double staircase structure, designed to rotate, becoming a bar, kitchen, peep show chamber, well-to-do lounge or grungy flat, as the story demands.
Bourne's production is astutely directed and alluring, seducing the audience into feeling each character's dilemma. Most importantly, one does not need to be a dancer or familiar with the genre to really appreciate this production, which interjects the red hot, racy storyline with moments of comic genius and carefully observed realities that are sure to tickle your funny bone.
- Amy Stow