Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 8 February 2014

Running on Empty

Soho Theatre ⋄ 4th - 16th February 2014

Dream-time dancing.

Stewart Pringle

Antonia Grove’s Brighton-based Probe have produced a collaborative work with far too much cotton wool between the ears to take seriously. A man and a woman pursue each other across land and sea, reality and the ‘dreamtime’, washing back and forth through a murky, teal ocean of New Age clichés and animal impersonations. One is dead and one is dreaming, one voyages Orpheus-like through a hallucinatory world to fetch the other, everything is pursuit and clinging on. There are moments of lucidity and even one or two of beauty, but most of the hour hangs in facetious, decorative webbing like a misappropriated dreamcatcher.

Grove dances with Greig Cooke, and both are highly accomplished, but there’s so little for them to get their teeth into. The choreography is fluid but monotonous, all gradual swells and surges, lacking spikes or surprises. For a story ostensibly about grief and reconciliation, there’s little emotional charge. A section on a storm-tossed raft is a rare exception, as Grove and Cooke slow down for a moment to allow their bodies to support one another, toe-tips on the brink of the storm.

Brad Birch, who distinguished himself as the author of the brilliant Gardening for the Unfulfilled and Alienated, has contributed a rather thin and trite script, failing to rise above the background hum. There are plenty of solemn pronouncements about dreams and dreaming, loss and restoration, but it’s all so fluffy and disparate – emotions are digested and distanced, specifics are blurred to inconsequence.

Music by Scott Smith is a high point, and through the more intense drum-machine led passages feel overplayed, there are plenty of stretches of gloomy reverberations and delicate highlights to complement Grove and Cooke’s voyage. Smith is a welcome presence, sitting back and sipping his beer, in a production that elsewhere feels po-faced.

The allusions to the Dreaming, the Aboriginal matrix of creation narratives, metaphysics and spiritual properties, feel ill-used. The Dreaming is here little more than a background for a conventional Western love story, told with a hodge-podge of images selected for their exoticism and otherness. Hats are tipped to the Dreaming’s origins with a section in which Grove and Cooke hop across the stage in the guise of kangaroos, but where do the elephants fit in? What about that otter that Grove sings about? Are there otters in Australia, even? I don’t think there are. It may seem petty to pick holes in the specifics of an intentionally dream-like dance piece, but this loosey-goosey approach to cultural appropriation stretches artistic license to the point that it begins to look just a little disrespectful.

Probe have an exciting commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration, and are to be commended in bringing together so many talented individuals to work on Running on Empty, but on this occasion the whole is so much less than the sum of its parts.


Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running on Empty Show Info

Produced by Probe

Directed by Jo McInnes

Written by Brad Birch

Cast includes Greig Cooke and Antonia Grove




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