I’ve never been one for magic shows and illusions, but I have long been captivated by trapdoors. Hear me out here, for who could resist the element of surprise, timing and ambiguity? Who doesn’t long to see fuel for that angst-driven fantasy that the ground can swallow you up when things get a little rocky? Trapdoors also uncover that Brechtian reminder that there is a third world beyond the plane of the characters and that of the audience – a world of switches and pulleys, and of devilish backstage teams spinning unexpected stagecraft.
If like me, you are partial to a hidden hinge, you will find wonder and delight in Requardt and Rosenberg’s DeadClub™. Delivered via the capable hands of Technical Stage Manager Zak McClelland and Stage Manager Dannii Ryalls, with a cunning mastery that could teach Father Time a little about cueing, this production presents a maelstrom of rotating floorboards and flung props, of tight transformations and wayward party hats.
And to top off this unseen performance, the icing on the cake of a production that clashes a children’s party with the ticking timebomb of our own inevitable demise, DeadClub even has on-stage artists. Five electric performers who, under Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg’s direction borrow equally from Pina Bausch, and Davids Lynch and Byrne. The dancers’ wringing hands, together with a mournfully collective, robotic pace, expose a debt to the Tanztheater choreographer, while Hannah Clark’s costume designs and splintered zebra-print stage wear New Wave and Twin Peaks as comfortably as an oversized suit.
A children’s birthday party can be quite the memento mori – especially if it features PJ Harvey-inspired ballads about dead spiders, dead junkies and dead parents. Especially if human bodies, deer and blackbirds periodically thud, flatly, to the ground, or if a barely-clothed character emerges from the centre of the festivities, the sense of a birth (a birthday?) teasingly brought into question by the soil that trickles down from the lighting rig – earth on coffin, mud on stage. Especially if the cream-laden cake, frilly frocks and the Mary Janes are pulled straight from the pages of a pre-irony 1940s Ladybird book. Especially as it reminds you how easy it is to shroud the symbols of childhood in the dust of age, to mark birthdays with the bittersweet essence of mortality.
With the precise intensity of a recurring nightmare, DeadClub collides enough triggers to stimulate even the most die-hard Freud enthusiast. Punctuating a script that occasionally visits the graphically violent, there’s fire, silent screams, and a prevailing sense of the ungraspable. Disembodied hands crawl onto the stage as bodiless heads spin. Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting brushes close to the audience members gathered around the edge of the performance space until, with a decelerating roulette-wheel click, it renders an observer the observed. The potential to be targeted is chillingly involving – some unwitting participants blush under the pressure of intense eye contact, and my friend giggles as performance artists Neil Callaghan spins for her an impromptu eulogy: “Rachel was the life and soul of the civil servant community”, he imagines aloud, with a chance humour that isn’t lost on the audience. Dead birds are piled centre-stage, as dancers sink into the floor – retreating until all that is visible are the twin peaks of a high heel and a party hat.
Yet for all its smoke and blackouts, snarling sound effects and crackling drones, DeadClub is far from gloomy. Rather, this disconnected world of fraught agitation is diamond-sharp, boldly artful and cuttingly angular – and, like your most haunting nightmare, DeadClub is startlingly seductive. As the five dancers gyrate and sway in heels and high white socks, gender seems performed, but not enacted, and the choreography sways, with a keen queer spark, from carnival streets to gentlemen’s club via Beyoncé’s Single Ladies music video. Dave Price’s Composition and Sound Design clashes lounge echoes of REM’s Everybody Hurts with the metallic shudder of a slammed prison door. At other points, original lyrics drip with the poisoned, cynical poetic humour of New York avant-garde. This is, indeed, the production of nightmares made from the stuff of dreams.
DeadClub is on until 30 September 2017 at The Place. Click here for more details.