[Review:] LOVE DANCE, Chiswick Playhouse, London.
In its bare concept, this is a very humorous and endearing, if perhaps predictable, play, but in its writing and execution, it suffers from a great deal of unnaturalism that allows for alienation and stunted progression. As I shall elaborate below, plot developments seem to emerge from nowhere, speech is completely unnaturalistic, and overall content is rather far-fetched, and these elements come together to compromise the credibility of what is, in essence, an appealing play.
I shall start with character developments...or perhaps lack thereof. Adam (Derek Murphy) remains the only constant of the two characters. He is collected, docile yet sarcastic, submissive, emotional and passionately against governmental ideals and dominant social constructs. Music is his life and composing is how he wishes to spend it. This character profile is well-communicated and clear-cut from the beginning, unchanging and consistent. Rose (Jacoba Williams), however, is all over the place. She is stubborn, driven, composed, calculated, professional and intellectual, yet she is also emotionally unstable and volatile, indecisive and unsure of herself, self-depreciating and unpredictable. This duality makes for a completely illogical and unfeasible character profile. Rose is presented as hysteric and prone to mood swings, constantly looking to Adam for approval and affirmations of her self-worth. In these ways, her character functions as a rather archaic and regressive representation of the distasteful stereotype of a man-hating feminist female, perpetually confused and secretly lustful, broody and desperate for the advice and opinions of composed and intelligent men. I must say, even before verifying, I was certain that this text was written by a man. This underlying sociopolitical tone is even directly addressed within the written text. Rose communicates to us that she is conflicted, wanting to be a modern, independent and career-driven woman but unable to give in to her primitive maternal thirst for a child, as though the feminine instinct is simply too powerful and she must concede. In this way, the writing is bizarrely and unnecessarily politicised. Why can she not be both a modern, career-driven woman and a mother?
Divisive politics aside, this inconsistency allows for a certain illegibility in her character. That Rose would be so against having children in one breath; love the idea in the very next; and plan every single detail of the conception, down to the dietary plan of the father, in her third and final...is most incoherent. Surely, if anything, she should be adamant from the very beginning of her conversation about the mother that brought her child into her workplace that she also wants to raise a child but independently. It is worth pointing out here: I do not use the expression 'in the next breath' lightly above; it is quite literally immediately after denouncing the possibility of wanting a child that Rose confesses that she desires one. And this stands as the perfect example of how plot progressions are far too jarring and abrupt. There is no sense of gradual development to make this plot seem feasible and natural. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision by writer Andy Walker, wanting a sense of chaos, and twists and turns. Whether deliberate or not, this lack of gradualness is fallible here.
This sense of hysteria and unclarity is evident from the very beginning of the performance, when Rose swiftly invites Adam back into her home after having just evicted him. After chastising him, remaining distant, sarcastic and cold, she then joins him on the sofa to erratically mime driving a car for the first time. This latter scene in itself is admittedly humorous, well-constructed and effective, but it has no place here. Why on Earth would she participate in this? An intelligent, aloof professionalist holding a dinner plate as though a steering wheel and pretending she is hitting the road...unrealistic. It feels as though the comical idea simply appeared in Walker's head and, without hesitation, without considering how it fits in with plot or style, he wrote it into the script.
Having mentioned the lack of gradual development, I must add that elements like this seem to come from mere, fleeting conversations. One moment, Rose mentions not being able to drive; and in the next, she is miming driving on the couch. One moment, she mentions the [im]probability of her having a child; and in the next, Rose having a child has become the entire premise of this play. The narrative is far too fragmented and disjointed in this respect, with developments being brusque and incongruent. It is easy to feel unsure of the play’s direction [and not in an exciting, intriguing way], and this should certainly be addressed.
Culminating in Rose phlebotomising Adam in order to run tests on his blood that are somehow miraculously able to check him for all potential STIs, content remains extremely far-fetched at best, and this would perhaps be negligible or more welcomed if naturalism was not compromised repeatedly elsewhere in the text.
I noted very early on in this performance variations on a certain expression. Regularly, the two characters supplement their speech with an adverb followed by the word 'speaking' - for example: matrimonially speaking, socially speaking, genealogically speaking, etc. Having first assumed this to be another sign of unimaginative or unpolished writing, I soon discovered that this was, in fact, deliberate and that Adam's manner of speaking was at first being mimicked ironically by Rose and later becoming a commonplace aspect of her speech, too. I mention this because it becomes rather fundamental, amongst other items, in the development of a bond between the two characters and of a shared identity, and is one of many examples of how plot and character developments are miscommunicated within this performance. The use and importance of this expression is presented weakly, both in the written text itself and in delivery. I would like to see sarcasm and acerbity from Williams when she first mimics this expression type, which would then peter out as she assumes its use as her own. As it currently stands, Williams simply participates in the use of the expression without marking it in any way. Put rather bluntly, when expressions like these become more and more frequent, without being marked significantly, it is easy to put this down to inarticulate, uncreative and repetitive writing. This is without mentioning that this is a particularly idiolectal expression; this is not used so frequently in natural everyday speech, and so repetition without a certain degree of irony denaturalises the speech to such a degree that it seems overly artificial and stunting.
Any sense of relatability or believability is certainly lacking throughout the entire text, making it impossible for an audience to find steady footing in the world of the play. It is simply far too chaotic and eclectic, and not in an effective, climactic and comedic way. Whilst sarcasm and bitterness are presented humorously, all dialogue is far too loquacious, failing to emulate the natural patterns or rhythms of speech. Paired with the aforementioned unnatural progression in Love Dance's plot, the effect is completely alienating.
What makes this performance watchable, however, is the talent of its actors. Williams and Murphy perform with unfaltering energy and conviction. Whilst naturalism is amiss between them, I can put this down to the text itself; instead, Williams and Murphy demonstrate great textual awareness, portraying their characters with as much credibility and naturalism as would be possible. They are expressive and vitalised, clear on character intent and feeling, and aware of their use of space. The two actors demonstrate great physicality, also, with this expressivity not limited to any given area of the body [usually, the face]. Talented actors.
Another excellent aspect of this performance is its set design (by Humphrey Jaeger). Ironically, this is incredibly naturalistic. Jaeger certainly demonstrates his great talent, having created a detailed and illustrious design that uses and balances colour superbly and that organises space incredibly well. It is easy to be convinced that this is a real house.
Tech, on the other hand, whilst aesthetically very pretty, is incongruous with the mood and nature of the performance. The windows remain constantly lit from behind, which would be a good decision if colour choice was more informed. Red and blue, left distinct and separate, do not communicate natural outside lighting. This is also a poor decision for characters regularly leave through 'the front door' and give us a lengthy glimpse through the doorframe at the bare void behind the set. Lighting them so harshly as they leave draws stark attention to this absence of set pieces and ruins illusion. Directing a floorlight to the windows would have sufficed in creating the illusion of sunlight. Whilst on this topic, I should also note that actors should stand away from the windows when 'outside', given that their crisp shadow can be seen upon the blinds. Sound is used effectively, overall, and the music used is an effective motif, reminding us of Adam's music. However, the short scenelet wherein a spotlit Murphy portrays Adam performing at his concert is awkward in its lack of detail, overly expressive use of mime and, of course, its incredibly short duration, not allowing the audience to settle into its material. This scenelet is unnecessary, and I would scrap it myself.
Back to transitions. These are most irksome for me, I must say. It seems as though performers cannot decide during these interludes whether or not they are to be in motion. They often perform minor acts during the transitions, but as soon as they sense that the lights are about to come up, they assume the opening position for the next scene and freeze until the lights come up. No! Do not await the tech to cue you; follow actions through and rely on technicians to do their job correctly and light you when necessary. Deliberately, performers have been left visible during these transitions with the persistence of low lighting. Thus, you can still be seen freezing mid-action, and this is most unnatural.
Despite these aforementioned stylistic and visual inconsistencies, this remains an endearing performance, overall, but only for its general premise and talented actors. I must admit that from the middle onwards, the dramatic text does find its feet somewhat, not relying on impertinent scenes like the driving or waltz lessons, as effective as these scenes are in themselves, but developing a sense of coherent and progressive plot, one that can actually be followed. However, it is perhaps all but too late, for its disjointedness and incoherency thus far have already succeeded in generating far too great a sense of the ineffectively illogical and unrealistic, moving its audience away from any profound engagement. A lot of work must be done to refine this performance, and I would start with a focus on plot development and better character profiling for Rose, then style.