Still Breathing (Manchester)
This theme is particularly suited for the powerful even aggressive dance styles of the company. With Anthony Murphy’s edgy industrial sounding music for backing the cast stride across the stage bumping into each other and generally looking for trouble. Their movements have a mechanical aspect. Instead of working together organically they link like cogs in a machine rather than human beings – precise but lifeless. Breakdancing is a fast-moving style and to see it performed by a group with each replicating the same moves is exciting. The spectacular leaps and acrobatic somersaults all add to the experience.
Set designer Phil Eddolls makes imaginative use of James Mackenzie’s lighting. Lights mounted in mobile wooden frames at the side of the stage are moved around to create performance space giving us a fighting arena and, finally, a cage in which the imprisoned cast struggle and gasp for air.
It is a bleak even distressing final image that is in accordance with a production that maintains a depressing atmosphere throughout. This is the problem with the production – its tone is not so much consistent as a drab monotone grey. The audience and the cast are never given the relief of any brightness. Ironically for a show on the theme of air it lacks atmosphere. The lighting for the show never really gets above gloomy as if the characters are stuck in a permanent twilight. This dulls the mood and creates a practical problem – it limits how much can be seen of the dancers. Many of them are obscured by shadow and those wearing dark clothes blend into the background denying us the chance to appreciate their dancing.
The title Still Breathing suggests an element of triumph – of overcoming tremendous obstacles and still managing to survive. Unfortunately this is not reflected in a production that seems determined to look on the bleak side and so drains much of the energy that the fine cast generate with their skill.
(Reviewed at the Contact Theatre, Manchester)