Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 27th November 2018
“a hybrid piece of dance-musical theatre with as much emphasis on the tech as the physical performers and music”
Dancers Honji Wang, Sébastien Ramirez and vocalist Eva Stone bring Nitin Sawhney’s 2015 album Dystopian Dream to life in this compelling performance. This fusion of hip-hop, contemporary ballet and aerial work accompanied by live singing, artful visuals and beautiful costumes is a feast for eyes and ears.
Sawhney has written scores for TV and film as well as releasing multiple studio albums, with his full body of work earning him the 2017 Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award. Sawhney has composed music for the Sadler’s Wells stage before, having worked with Akram Khan since 2002. Where Dystopian Dream differs is that the dance performance has been born after engagement with the music, rather than a collaborative process between composer and choreographer.
Company Wang Ramirez’s interpretation reflects the genre-bending nature of the music, taking inspiration from breaking to ballet and combining these with complex and clever aerial work. As performers, Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez have distinctly personal modes of expression which are, on their own, engaging to watch. The most exciting moments, however, come from the unique blend of their styles in duets between the pair, particularly during the track ‘Dark Day’ accompanied by the haunting vocals of Eva Stone.
Stone’s presence on stage is mesmerising; on more than one occasion did I find myself watching her sing in relative darkness, as opposed to the better lit and more active dancers. That is not to say that Stone’s only role on stage is to sing. Quite the opposite. She joins Wang and Ramirez in a playful pas de trois, is hung and swung around the stage and finally stood on top of, all whilst elevating the soundtrack with her darkly soulful voice. It’s truly impressive how flawless she sounds throughout.
Shizuka Hariu’s modernist set design is integral to the performance. Spread between two tiers connected by a curved ramp, it was able to cast its own shapes and shadows onto the stage, by virtue of Natasha Chivers’ lighting design. Yet it also provided a surface on which to project and enhance the interactive visual effects developed by Yeast Culture, lead by Nick Hillel.
This is not your average show. It’s a hybrid piece of dance-musical theatre with as much emphasis on the tech as the physical performers and music. The aerial operators, visuals, set, lighting and costumes by Hussein Chalayan all come together to create a whole much greater than just the sum of its parts.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Johan Persson
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Bridge Theatre
Reviewed – 30th July 2018
“Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text”
Almost fifty years on from Peter Nichols’ “The National Health” – a black comedy with tragic overtones that focuses on the appalling conditions in an under-funded national health hospital – Alan Bennett’s “Allelujah!” is its natural heir. Set in the geriatric ward of a doomed Yorkshire hospital, Bennett’s play echoes the themes but with a sharp, contemporary bite and with more humour that cushions the inherent and inevitable diatribes that come with the subject matter. Thankfully, for the most part, the politics are pushed backstage: the play’s the thing – and this is pure entertainment from start to finish. There is a definite television sitcom feel to the production; a less whimsical ‘Green Wing’ with shades of the surrealism of Dennis Potter’s ‘The Singing Detective’. It is a potent combination.
The ‘Beth’ (short for Bethlehem), an old-fashioned cradle-to-grave hospital on the edge of the Pennines, is threatened with closure as part of the NHS efficiency drive. Meanwhile a documentary crew is brought onto the wards to capture its fight for survival. But, resorting to some underhand methods, they also uncover some of the darker methods used to combat the constant struggle to free up beds for newcomers. Under Nicholas Hytner’s acute direction the comedy and the poignancy are never at odds with each other. Hytner is well attuned to Bennett’s ability to switch from humour to pathos in a whisper. The biggest laughs hail from some of the cruellest dialogue. Bennett’s wonderfully crafted throwaway lines pepper the text, in which one of the elderly patients, reacting to the news that another has passed away, describes it as “very rude – didn’t he realise there was a queue”.
There is no such discourtesy as the twenty-five strong cast queue up to deliver their fine performances. Here democracy rules, although there are some stand outs. Deborah Findlay gives a wonderful turn as the ward sister who singlehandedly and criminally ensures that the hospital’s turnover of patients meets its targets. Jeff Rawle as the bigoted, lung-shredded ex-miner exhales a corrosive mix of insult and affection, especially towards his ministerial son (Samuel Barnett) who, by slightly implausible coincidence, has been sent up from Whitehall as the key facilitator in closing down the hospital. Peter Forbes lends a balanced self-important, self-mocking charm to his chairman of the hospital trust, and Sacha Dhawan’s character of the young Dr Valentine lays bare the more contemporary themes in our post-Windrush climate, and post-Saville era where “bedside manners borders on interference”.
Yet there is still a feeling of nostalgia enhanced by the scenes being punctuated with dreamlike sequences of song and dance, brilliantly choreographed by Arlene Phillips, as the patients form a choir of angelic voices to reclaim a long-forgotten past amid the classic songs of their youth. You almost sense that they are being furtively drip fed some sort of hallucinogen alongside the normal daily medication.
Only in the final scenes when, like the hospital itself, the fourth wall is pulled down do we get a hint that the show, in part, is a vehicle for Bennett’s bugbears. Not just about the NHS, but modern British society in general. Bennett makes no attempt to hide his own voice as Dhawan’s Dr Valentine, facing deportation, addresses the audience directly and proclaims, “Open your arms, England, before it’s too late”. This is the only slightly preachy moment in an otherwise slick, powerful and magical commentary on society. But at least it was saved for the end. The rest is a pure delight: a real tonic.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
The Bridge Theatre until 29th September
Previously reviewed at this venue