Performers: Gareth Clark, Lauren Lee-Jones, Belinda Neave, Marega Palser, Caroline Sabin and Bert Van Gorp
Choreography and direction: Lea Anderson
Words, music and musical direction: Steve Blake
Design: Tim Spooner
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, 5 February 2014
There was, unexpectedly, a Q&A session after the performance of Ladies and Gentlemen which I saw, and fascinating as the show had been, I rather wished I had known beforehand some of what emerged in the discussion. The key thing revealed by director Lea Anderson was that this production was object-driven, and that she had set out to choreograph objects rather than dance steps. True, there had been no escaping the importance of the myriad objects on stage, but to know that they were the starting point and controlled the performers rather than vice-versa made me want to see the show again with that in mind. The objects created by the ever-inventive Tim Spooner all had their own rules – for example, they could only be placed in specific orientations – and so what emerged were combinations of different conventions.
We were introduced to six characters – Man, Woman, The Twisted Twins, Pet and The Other One. Most fascinatingly, The Other One is (mostly) a mantlepiece, so in her case, performer and object are one. The other characters have to make space for her, as the nature of her object obscures her vision.
Such skeletal programme notes as we were given told us that these were the remnants of a music hall family attempting to reconstruct misremembered routines. Yet the routines were actually clear, strange but strong. They included ventriloquism, songs and some glorious slow-motion juggling to an accompaniment of vocal clicks and whirrs. In these routines, objects – as I see in hindsight – took centre stage, the performers their dutiful servants. They spoke of and to the objects in between the set pieces with due reverence.
The costumes were part of the cast of objects – over-sized hats, other protuberances and paraphernalia somewhat reminiscent of Edward Lear’s drawings for his Nonsense poems – and definitely had a life of their own. The performers told in the Q&A session of how glad they were that they had been able to work from the start of their rehearsal period in full costume, to get used to them, almost to tame them as Saint Exupéry’s Petit Prince does his fox and his rose. In this world, objects have an inner life as much as people and creatures – nothing is inanimate, even though it cannot move about through its own volition.
Lea Anderson told us that she wanted to make a piece such as she had never seen, and the key role of the extraordinary range of objects did make it such. Having said that, words, music and movement were elements of equal weight alongside the objects. There was nothing superfluous. When the role of one of Tim Spooner’s objects remained elusive – an example being the blue intestine on a stick – it was embraced for its beauty alone, there to be admired.
The dramatic tension in the performance was created by everything being on the edge of awkward. When strong rhythm emerged in Steve Blake’s music, he required the performers to move away from it. He and Lea Anderson have worked together over many years with the dance companies The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs, and the strength and sure touch of their creative partnership is abundantly evident in this show. They certainly demand a lot of the performers, who play and sing all the music themselves, and all six rose to the creative challenge to produce a wonderfully entertaining evening. As yet there are no tour plans, but it would be good for audiences outside Cardiff to have the opportunity to hear the words:
Ladies and Gentleman, for your delectation…
and all that comes after them in this remarkable piece!