The Last Dance promises to be an immersive tale of love and connection in the 21st century. Its version of the 21st century seems to be culled from despair-driven hot takes about millenials and their obsession with the gamification/appification of everything, particularly online dating, and feels like a hypothesis taken to a very silly extreme. However, it’s not without its campy charm, and while its exploration of love and connection remains questionable, its genuine attempts to engage with its audience and create a self-contained, self-sustaining world are praiseworthy.
The experience starts in the Lion and Lamb pub. Participants, who have been instructed via email to wear a uniform of white t-shirt and blue jeans (to which almost everyone adheres), are given a number to stick across their chest, a pamphlet about The Hoxton Institute, a new members questionnaire and, interestingly, a complimentary whiskey-and-mixer.
The questionnaire reads exactly like an OK Cupid profile and requires ‘new members’ to answer questions about their sexuality, relationship status, hobbies, physical attributes, education and profession. The pamphlet is a fun prop, outlining the Institute rules (among them, no dancing alone, no hugging and no masturbation), and outlining the history of the organisation.
The story is that the Institute is designed to help lonely and deviant individuals find a monogamous partner of any gender, and rails against the promiscuity and flippancy of modern dating and coupling habits. I found myself waiting for the moment someone asked me what animal I’d like to be turned in to if I failed to find a partner; unfortunately for The Last Dance, their piece has come to fruition in the same year as Yorgos Lanthimos’s startling film, leaving it feeling oddly familiar. (For the record, I would like to be turned into a psychopathic velociraptor, as if I can’t find love and connection in the 21st century, I don’t see why anyone else should be allowed to live and find it in my stead.)
After filling in the questionnaire, new members are lead to the Hoxton Hall, where the meat of the performance takes place. I feel comfortable describing the introduction in the Lion and Lamb in such spoilerific detail as much of it turns out to be window dressing – fun and decorative, but ultimately underused in the main production.
We are told that we have all signed on for a six-week minimum live-in course, which will include mandatory mealtimes and classes in everything from meditation to bread-making to banking and finances to the art of love-making (advanced couples only). Our guides are former members of the Institute, now part of teeth-grindingly ‘happy’ couples and dead behind the eyes. Our day begins with a Connection Through Movement class, which turns out to be a rather awkward dance class that sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
Immersive productions live and die by the attitude of their audience. Decent productions plan for troublemakers; genuinely good ones plan for an audience who might be too embarrassed or too shy to get involved. The Last Dance calls for a huge amount of audience participation, not just with the actors but with one another. The earlier whiskey-and-mixer is probably designed to help. When the Institute’s rigid rules break down into anarchy – as it must, for the story to go anywhere beyond a sort of back-to-school naughty-boys-and-girls aesthetic – we are handed shots of whiskey which presumably are supposed to enliven us, and the show ends with a disco and another complimentary drink.
Unfortunately, if the audience is inhibited The Last Dance feels uncomfortably slight. There are really only four scenes, most of which are strangers grinning unsurely at one another. It’s only saved by the game and funny interaction with the actors, who fully inhabit their distinct, cartoonish characters and hold the creaking narrative together through sheer force of personality alone.
If you’re lucky enough to go on a night where the audience are ready to let their hair down, then The Last Dance comes together as a celebration of movement, freedom, individuality and disco-stippled joy in a place of artificial rigidity. Dance as a medium is used to express conformity and rebellion. It’s a club night with a fun, if somewhat simplistic, storyline. Like all nights out on the dancefloor, a bum tune and a low energy level can completely wipe out the evening. But for fans of the ‘please engage me and possibly touch me’ school of immersive theatre, it has the potential to be a real romp.
The Last Dance is on at Hoxton Hall until 26th November 2016. Click here for more details.