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[Review:] DERRIÈRE ON A G-STRING, Lilian Baylis Studio, London.

Produced by The Very Top Secret Dance Company and Directed by Alfred Taylor-Gaunt, Derrière on a G-String is a wonderful production charged, rather literally, with cheeky comedy and naughty melodrama. It is an absolute delight to watch and definitely leaves one wanting more.

The first act, I must say, is superior to the first and is excellent in setting up both mood and structure. All performers carry confidence, energy, poise and articulacy in both their movements and caricaturistic personae. Their synchronicity is just as favourable, from tap dancing and ensemble dances to the feet-shuffling in ‘Left Bank Number Two’. These are not well classically trained dancers, that is sure, but with their devious and endearing spirits, and with mistakes seldom arising in their performance, these dancers are enough to utterly woo any audience. From expression to physicality, from dance ability to nudist courage, these performances are an utter treat.

One very peculiar yet indicative and charming oddity of this performance is the use of gibberish in lieu of language. Having the performers communicate in this surreal way makes for a unified and coherent style and casts the audience into a completely different world of absurd comedy where one finds oneself observing eccentric and otherworldly figures in what one might call their natural habitat. This is a very illusive, transportive and powerful characteristic of this performance. And this is why I was so disappointed to see cast members, most notably Sammy Moore, remaining on stage during the interval and conferring with audience members, whom I presume to be friends. This is highly unprofessional in theatre, as it utterly destroys illusion. What is more, some cast members then stayed to clean up the stage with the [very capable alone] stagehands. Again, the illusion's broken, but this is a job that should be left for those so delegated.

After the interval, I felt that Moore’s subsequent personae became rather unanimously and immovably cocky, and his stage time seemed to overbear the rest of the ensemble. I felt that further glimpses into the lives of other performer's personae would have been beneficial, although, given the conclusion of the performance — wherein all the action we have seen features in one, all-inclusive nightmare of Moore’s final persona — perhaps this increased focus was intentional. Given the disjointed, episodic and nonlinear nature of this performance, however, if this was the case, it is highly unnecessary.

In fact, I was rather disappointed by the second act altogether, and this was mainly due to pacing. I would personally have swapped some of the shorter scenes of Act I for the longer ones in Act II, just to juggle the pacing and scene durations better.

I also felt that the choreography became much weaker, too. Besides movements generated from the narrative, choreography (Alfred Taylor-Gaunt) became repetitive and somewhat lacklustre. There definitely could have been more imaginativeness in its conception. This repetitiveness extended that feeling of lack of pace, diluting the second act further, for me. That being said, choreography was followed very well by the performers. They moved — technicalities of classical dance obviously aside, as well intended, I should hope — fluidly and decisively.

One other, rather important issue I would raise for this performance is its topography. Being that the stage is very wide and that the set pushes the action downstage, it is often the case when actors are standing far Downstage Left or Downstage Right that action is missed by audience members on the opposing end. This could be solved either by moving scenes that depend on these placements further upstage or by making sure that performers’ backs are never to the audience. For realism, this would not be an issue, but for such a performance that utterly depends on the visual, it is crucial that all action can be seen at all times and by all audience members.

On a technical note, music (sound designed by Thomas Cheeseman) complemented this performance very well, though I would urge the technicians to instal speakers at the back of the house. Whilst I am aware this might be more of a venue-related issue, the lack of surround sound made for a rather insular soundscape, limited to the remits of the stage. I would also note that music came in rather early in the social faux pas sequences. Lighting (designed by Andrew Ellis), if approaching excessive at some stages, was equally as complementary. Keeping the overall lighting state relatively the same was a good way to not only make for coherency in style but to not distract audience focus. Set (designed by Libby Todd and constructed by Set Blue Scenery) was astonishingly dynamic, demonstrating endless and countless uses and adding to the surreality of this world, with its [positive] blatant ignorance of natural and physical form and space. Costumes were wonderfully elaborate and aided scenes to be quick and transportive in their humour. Becoming more and more ridiculous towards the end of the play, with the gigantic swan suit and the huge burglar fat-suits, was an excellent and well-conceived decision.

I found myself to be rather disappointed by certain props, however. Being so elaborate throughout, and even pedantic in their lack of branding (condiments, newspapers, etc.), I found it difficult to understand why some props were so lacklustre and underdeveloped, such as the clipboard of papers to sign for the duck charity in ‘March of the Charity Muggers' or the newspapers in ‘Left Bank Number Two’ i.e. a folded wad of paper with sellotape across its middle. Props and pieces that drew attention to their artificiality, such as the Queen's (Ruth Emily Plaxton) pristine plastic wig and crown or the floppy rubber baguette, were acceptable, stylistically accurate and highly amusing, but these unbecoming and seemingly unfinished props were not so favourable. I should also note that for Alex Murray’s persona’s ejaculation at the end of ‘Morning Wood’, Murray should angle himself just that little bit more away from the door, as the tube he used was visible as a disconnected non-bodily part in his silhouette upon the door. I draw attention to all of this because the world we are presented is so microcosmic and particular, seemly and intricate, that these little irregularities and imperfections make for slight but distracting disturbances that cause the mind to have to stretch its imagination that little bit further to comply with theatre’s demands, making for a slightly more laborious experience.

Overall, this is an utterly ridiculous production, in the best way possible. It takes the mundane and the everyday and metamorphoses them into a night of surreal adventure of endearment and fun. The recurring motifs, sequences and characters make for a great sense of consistency and style, and this performance is very good at finding a safe and balanced ground for the use of repetition.

“A splendid and joy-filling performance of the comedic and the taboo.”


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