Fabulous Beast presents
James son of James
Cliodhna Hoey and Milos Galko in James son of James
Photo by Ros Kavanagh
Director – Michael Keegan-Dolan
Composer – Philip Feeney
Songs – Mark Oliver Everett and Catch Berry (Election Song)
5 – 9 February, 2008
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This action of this dance theatre production, staged by one of the Barbican’s Artistic Associates, Fabulous Beast begins on a rather light-hearted note but swiftly becomes darkly sinister. Thankfully, its storyline also features several welcome forays into humour, often, via the skilled physicality of its choreography and dance along the way.
In this third and last part of an Irish Midlands Trilogy by Fabulous Beast, James returns home after eleven years away for his father’s funeral, but arrives too late for the service, just reaching the cemetery in time for the burial. As the townspeople are gathered around his father, James Senior’s grave, an unexpected moment of levity occurs when the politician’s wife, played with alarmingly double-dealing tendencies by Daphne Strothmann, lip-synchs her husband’s (Michael Dolan) speech as he atypically expounds on the alleged virtues and thwarted plans of the deceased, who it turns out, had been a school teacher in the town for some forty years.
Daphne Strothmann and Michael Dolan in James son of James
Photo by Ros Kavanagh
Such quirky behaviour as that of the politician’s wife at the cemetery typifies the nature of Fabulous Beast’s James Son of James. ‘Expect the unexpected,’ the company seems to be saying, and this is never more true than in the case of James himself, the focal point of the piece who quickly and, inevitably descends from being the man of the hour to a man whose days are numbered. An early scene, in which happiness supposedly reigns, foreshadows what is to come as the ensemble gathers around a long table, with James as the guest of honour at its centre, loosely mirroring the assemblage in artist Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper.
James Son of James also features a number of amiable sounding songs, the range, variety and off-beat, tell it like it is lyrics of which are reminiscent of those of cult musicals such as Hair and Little Shop of Horrors whose songs similarly, often reflected do-wap styling along with that of narrative, girl group hits. Lines such as ‘Everyone loves you, but nobody cares,’ ring especially true within the context of this production’s uncertain storyline. And pre-recorded, minimalist style piano sometimes, along with soulful cello renderings for slower scenes lends atmosphere.
The choreography of the production, which is credited simply to Fabulous Beast in the programme, but spear-headed by Director/Actor Keegan-Dolan, is, for me, the absolute highlight of the piece. It’s alternatingly ‘catch me if you can’ spontaneity and ‘trust me’ sense of urgency strike notes which are often discordant, yet generally, sublime and as a result, highly exhilarating. This post dance sequence after-glow also emphasises Keegan-Dolan’s claim that his dancers are ‘energy,’ rather than ‘technique-based.’ Most of the dancing takes place via well-matched duos, though some of the cleverly disguised choreography has performers ‘dancing’ in groups within the context of an exercise class and other everyday activities. Each member of the cast contributes his or her own sense of individuality to their performance, another notion encouraged by their Director, who is also an Artist who welcomes cast input.
Khamlane Halsackda and Rachael Poirier in James son of James
Photo by Ros Kavanagh
One particularly funny, very physical scene takes place between Lorena Randi as the policeman’s wife and Vladislav Soltys, as her husband, as they mimic repeatedly frantic sexual couplings, with Solty checking his watch and Randi standing on her head in between episodes, in their umpteenth attempt to make her pregnant. Angelo Smimmo, as the town’s doctor also inspires ample laughter via his offbeat sense of comic timing. Emmanuel Obeya as James and Rachel Poirier as the Merchant’s Daughter lend a sense of lyricism and poetry to their dancing, as does Khamlane Halsackda during two moving, coming of age pairings with Poirier. But each member of the cast performs their dance and comedic sequences with great distinctiveness and character.
There is something unsettlingly generic about Merle Hensel’s set, with its wooden barn-raising aspects, stray planks of wood and building site lighting. Perhaps its banality is meant to emphasise that the scenarios occurring within the context of the production that it is framing could occur anywhere, at anytime.
James Son of James boasts inventively naturalistic choreography, absurdist but humanistic dialogue, well-executed dance sequences, and levitating moments of humour. However, the production’s darker scenes sometimes have a tendency to drag and, seeing characters which could originally be regarded as trustworthy, suddenly turn nasty, jars. But their rather swift turnaround is, possibly, meant to seem unnatural and abrupt, as it highlights the more uncomfortable to face sides of human nature. And perhaps, the flatness of the production’s more callous, violent scenes are just Artist/Writer/Director/Actor Keegan-Dolan’s way of mirroring society’s tendency to inadvertently trivialise such goings on via its ever-increasing fascination with the fast-moving contents of its multitudinous, block-buster spewing, decidedly flat screens.
Box Office: 0845 121 6823
Tues – Sat 7:45 pm
Prices £7 – 26
Performance last 90 minutes with no interval
Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
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