Reviews Bristol Published 19 November 2015

Trip the Light Fantastic

Bristol Old Vic Studio ⋄ 17th - 28th November 2015

No dancing around the issue.

Rosemary Waugh
Credit: Craig Fuller

Credit: Craig Fuller

Brooklyn, Nick Hornby’s recent film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel, has been met with critical acclaim and, to date, a building collection of awards. Visually, the film is beautiful, like a Wes Anderson in watercolours, and when seeing it at the weekend even I, cynical I, shed a tear (just the one, perfectly formed). Saoirse Ronan is particularly heart breaking as the porcelain and auburn Irish protagonist, whilst her Italian-Brooklynite husband (sorry, just ruined the plot) is James Dean reincarnated, cast for cheekbones as much as for line delivery.

Despite thoroughly enjoying this pastel-tinted peon to homesickness and love, the thing that quickly struck me about Brooklyn is just what a sugared almond it all was. Never once did we get any real comment on, for instance, religion, immigration, inter-racial marriage or career prospects for women in the 1950s. Whilst it can be nice to be enveloped in all these images of love and sorrow like an Aran jumper speckled with sea spray, Brooklyn’s decision to never engage with any more uncomfortable issues was to its cost.

In contrast, Trip the Light Fantastic by Miriam Battye and on at the Bristol Old Vic this week, demonstrates how a production can contain all the elements of Feel Good-ness, right down to a disco track or two, whilst also providing a commentary to some spinose and, at times, difficult to swallow issues.

Trip the Light is an ‘unlikely couple’ story taking place in an unidentified rec centre, in which the two characters, Jack and Freddie, meet once a week so the latter can try to teach the disgruntled and decidedly unbendy former to dance. Near the beginning it appears that this is going to be all about the platitudinous ‘awws’, both at the fumbling granddad intent on re-wooing his wife and the gawky twenty-something in his saggy bottomed tracksuit pants. However, this quickly turns out to not be the case. Firstly, because of Battye’s scripting of some very funny and delightfully un-PC lines, many given to the over-lucid Freddie including “She calls me the twat whisperer!” in reference to his ability to get angry old men to drop the attitude and start the waltzing.

Secondly, because the meeting of the two men in this scenario is partially based around Freddie’s mental health problems and, it is hinted at, the ‘sadness’ of Jack’s wife – the one he wants to cheer up by taking her dancing. At a time when it might seem like mental health is both more frequently discussed than ever before and viewed as something not to be made fun of or challenged (as Ken Livingstone discovered after making a gaff this very week), Trip the Light directs its attentions to a view very infrequently heard, that of those trying to interact with or look after people with mental health problems. Here, in part, represented as the views of an older generation (it’s fair to say that some of Jack’s comments are insensitive and out-dated), the explosive monologue of Jack towards and regarding Freddie also smashes into some valid and vital points.

One of these is how, if and why a friendship or relationship is continued on the basis that the person without metal health problems is concerned that if they end it the other person will react wildly – perhaps even killing themselves. Versions of this situation play out all the time and become part of the great unspoken murmuration around mental health that is even harder to put voice to when simultaneously tying tongues in knots with fears of causing offence or being unsympathetic. This is a very real, amorphous and often unsolvable problem – and the play doesn’t attempt to resolve it any absolute fashion. However, the mere caging of this beast for even a moment demonstrates a bravery and subtlety on the part of Battye and the production team that makes this story far more than pre-Christmas whimsy.

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Rosemary Waugh

Rosemary is a freelance arts and theatre journalist, who regularly writes for Time Out and The Stage.

Trip the Light Fantastic Show Info


Directed by Nik Partridge

Written by Miriam Battye

Cast includes Adam Farrell and Roland Oliver

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