Not a play about asthmatics, or sex maniacs, but a 50-minute dance drama based on a series of emergency telephone calls logged in a newspaper magazine, Carrie Cracknell’s new discipline-busting piece for the Gate treads a not so fine line between self-indulgence and pretentiousness.
The language of dance is old-style modern cliché: sudden surges to the side of the stage, jumping into arms, po-faced line-ups – all very stern, very low-rent Pina Bausch – while the five case studies perpetrated by the four performers don’t hang together other than as cries for help in a cruel world.
A multiple sclerosis victim has a choking fit. A house is on fire in Preston. A woman is apparently overcome by a severe attack of serial music and her five-year old son makes the call (why not just change the record?). Someone loses an arm and his friend loses his mind (“Where’s the arm?” asks the ambulance service, not unreasonably). A baby arrives unexpectedly early and the mother is talked through the procedures.
Holly Waddington has designed a floating tarpaulin dance floor suspended by ropes and sloping forward so you feel as though you’re on the deck of a ship. All very well, but why? And if we are onboard, why are the masts concealing half a dozen luminous blue telephone heads?
Oh, and another thing nobody ever says about this sort of dance in tiny spaces: sweat shirt tunics and woolly togs are so unattractive close-up, as is the inevitable parade of imperfect bare feet full of bunions, hammer toes, chipped nails and dirty soles.
No wonder Mary Erskine sings a final song, "Counting Stars", while sitting upstage, feet tucked away, facing the back wall, or the universe, or something. Good lighting, though, by Lucy Carter.