Sadler’s Wells Theatre

ASSEMBLY HALL at Sadler’s Wells Theatre


“Assembly Hall is nothing short of spectacular”

Crystal Pite is a visionary theatre-maker. A once in a generation choreographer. Able to convey emotion through movement in a way unlike anyone else I have had the pleasure to see.

My first introduction to Pite was as part of a mixed bill for the Royal Ballet in 2017. Her short work, Flight Pattern, created in response to Europe’s refugee crisis, blew me away with its ambitious use of the whole company moving in synchronicity.

Her latest work in collaboration with Jonathon Young and her Vancouver based company, Kidd Pivot, takes an utterly bizarre concept that, on the surface, has nothing in common with that politically charged piece – an Annual General Meeting of amateur medieval re-enactors.

It is as perplexing as it seems. Pite and Young’s signature style, developed over the course of a number of productions together, has dancers moving and lip syncing to recorded speech. They animate conversations with exaggerated hand gestures and head tilts, with each dancer imbuing their movements with oodles of personality as we are introduced to the reasons the group has gathered. Slowly through the narrative, after comic arguments about where refreshments feature on the agenda, it is revealed that the group are facing dissolution, with their fate hinging on a final vote put off since last year.

From relatively inauspicious beginnings, over the course of 90 minutes this show turns into something totally unexpected and will leave you gripped throughout. Pite and Young use this group of amateur re-enactors to explore themes ever present in theatre such as: Why do we tell stories? And what do the stories that persist say about us today? Are we doomed to repeat the failings of our forebears or can we learn to save ourselves and set us free?



As the piece moves into a dream-like sequence where the dance takes over, the conversation gives way to a soundscape of experimental electronic sounds using the recorded speech (Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe). The group moves like a living organism, not in stops and starts but in ripples and waves. How much are these individuals in control, executing free will vs. playing a role they are destined to play, over and over? This is explored right from the get go, with one of the dancers seemingly being pushed and pulled around by another, moving like a marionette. Movements flail and flutter as if under strobe lighting and repeat in mysterious ways. When later the same movements recur by a dancer in a full suit of armour they gain an audible element which inexplicably changes the feeling of the movement.

The set (Jay Gower Taylor) is exquisitely simple – a backdrop that is without doubt a run down community hall, with grubby walls and moody lighting (Tom Visser) that adds to the feeling this is a place in disrepair. The raised stage-upon-a-stage is a clever trick to instantaneously move the action from real to surreal.

The costume (Nancy Bryant) is again simple yet characterful. Dancers wear plain clothes whilst in their AGM but these get increasingly elaborate as the re-enactments play out.

Each element, movement, sound, costume, and lighting is top notch but together it is more than the sum of its parts. Pite uses dance to convey a message in concert with other elements and in many ways her approach to theatre-making is similar to her approach to the choreography – each element performing the role it’s best placed to play.

Out of many, we are left with one. A final image of a knight constructed from the torso of one dancer, the arm of another, with the whole figure moving as if being controlled by a master puppeteer.

I am not exaggerating when I say Assembly Hall is nothing short of spectacular. I came out feeling enthused at what a perfectly executed production it was – the best and most sought after sensation after leaving the theatre. Pite proves her talent once again, and to think something so ambitious can be achieved out of a group of medieval reenactors makes it all the more joyous. I can’t wait to see what pops out of Pite’s enviable creative mind next.


ASSEMBLY HALL at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Reviewed on 20th March 2024

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Michael Slobodian




Previously reviewed at this venue:

AUTOBIOGRAPHY (v95 and v96) | ★★★ | March 2024
NELKEN | ★★★★★ | February 2024
LOVETRAIN2020 | ★★★★ | November 2023
DANCE ME | ★★★★★ | February 2023
BREAKIN’ CONVENTION 2021 | ★★★★★ | July 2021
WILD CARD | ★★★★ | June 2021
OVERFLOW | ★★★★★ | May 2021
REUNION | ★★★★★ | May 2021



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