REVIEW: Crooked Dances at The Other Place

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Jeany Spark in Crooked Dances. Photo: Ellie Kurttz/RSC

Steve Sutherland reviews Crooked Dances, The Other Place, Until 13th July

When the kids were small, we Sutherlands made the classic mistake of holidaying in Cornwall in August which, as any seasoned traveller will tell you, is a bit like being anywhere else in the British Isles in November. Sure enough, the skies were black, the winds did howl and the rain, it did lash down. In a word, it was Biblical. And so on day four of this misery, we found ourselves, as so many unfortunates have before us, damp and bored and bickering, traipsing around the oversized greenhouses of the Eden Project. Whereupon our Syd, aged six-and-a-half, offered up this sage critique: “It’s like a zoo… with no animals.”

These words came back to haunt me the other night at the Other Place when faced with Crooked Dances which is basically kind of a play about vampires… with no vampires. Or, to be brutally honest with no… much of anything.

There is a plot of sorts – a journalist of average talent meets up with an annoyingly laddish photographer on the Eurostar on the way to Paris to do an interview which no-one really wants to publish with a haughty, washed-up classical pianist who is micro-managed by a bloke who may, or may not, be her lover. When they get there, the pianist has upped sticks to her lair in the French countryside so they follow in damp pursuit, get a naff interview and some crap photos, there are some arguments and then the whole thing turns mildly weird and becomes a lecture on Eric Satie, the transformative power of music, the supernatural and astral projection. Then someone dies offstage, which, let’s face it, is never really that satisfactory. I guess we’re meant to be spooked, but we’re not.

This would all be ditsy and so-so enough if it wasn’t for the writer, Robin French, insisting on drip-feeding this flimsy framework with all manner of contemporary issues. There’s a bunch of stuff about how we’re all addicted to mobile phones and the internet, words like “Twitter” and “Snapchat” dropped like smug little bombs into conversations presumably as some sort of proof that the play is, y’know, down-with-the-times. The classicist rages against being defined by the men she used to associate with – nicely me-too obv. But it all feels a bit like zeitgeist box-ticking, the four actors – Jeany Spark, Olly Mott, Ruth Lass and Ben Onwukwe – actually all splendid but fatally laden with lines that render them little more than cyphers to expound the dribble of half-formed non-revelatory, snippets of notion. I’m afraid none of it rings remotely true.

I have been a journalist for most of my life, and an editor for a fair part of it. I have interviewed many awkward customers – Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott offered to have me shot, Peter Tosh threatened to make me disappear – and I have hired, worked with, and fired more photographers than I care to remember and I can assure you that no-one in my reality ever behaved anything like they do here. The play also creaks along under the burden of hints that never really transpire. There’s some fairytale stuff with red hoodie and a projection of a wolf for instance, the lupine image resembling a screensaver. Why?

My best comparison is this: those of you unfortunate enough to live trapped in a household where a stream of mildly-Leftist pleased-with-themselves plays are endlessly broadcast via Radio 4 be warned. This is like actually watching one of those plays!

Listen, if you really want to have your notions challenged over the potential and potency of modern music, take a gander at David Mitchell’s fabulously freaked out recent movie Under The Silver Lake and prepare to have your mind properly blown.

And if you really must engage with the idea of communing with someone in some sort of dream state, there’s a track by Jonathan Richman on the first Modern Lovers album called Astral Plane which wonderfully does the trick. Which Crooked Dances doesn’t.