Dances for Wolves

Thu 4th – Mon 29th August 2011


Annabel James

at 12:10 on 19th Aug 2011



After just a fifteen-minute turnaround from the über-macho footballer stereotypes of their other production, ‘On the Bench’, the all-female cast of ‘Dances for Wolves’ makes an impressive entrance in fishnets, red satin corsets and little else. The routine begins, the lights are dimmed and as an audience member you start to think you’ve actually walked into a strip club. Then you realize you can hear the dancers’ thoughts, and you know they’re judging you as much as you’re judging them.

This play is confrontational but not at the expense of being clever. The characters complain about the men in their audience; every so often one pauses to exclaim a variant of ‘Oh shit, did I leave the oven on?’ - then all of a sudden one mentions feminist neo-burlesque. Not only that, but Kirsty Eyre’s sharp writing individuates each character as they appeal to be chosen for a private dance – because the customer is ‘the Sheikh’, owner of Wolves football club, who’ll pay a million pounds to the girl he chooses. The hilarious attempts of each dancer to win him over include Sarah Grove’s character Merry, sweetly naive with a cut glass accent, appealing to the Sheikh to choose her because of her ‘diverse’ life, ‘so that you can draw a kind of... juxtaposition metaphor parallel zeitgeist thing’.

It’s unapologetically loud and lusty: STDs, bum implants and the perils of stray sanitary pads are not omitted. We see all the seedy underside of the seduction of the show, but also its sheer banality – ‘my heels are killing me, I’ll have to take them off and just work it into my act’ complains ‘Paella’, played by Merika Vine, who then awkwardly licks at the heels of her stilettos. All the cast approached the production with immense energy: Joanne Jollie as ‘Dianne’ was a particularly tremendous example of this, as were the petite duo Pacha and Melanoma, played by Kelly Russell and Donna Marsh, whose explosive arguments got plenty of laughs.

Whilst the play is hilarious throughout it remains pointedly aggressive in it representations of women, and as a female audience member I found myself much more on edge about this than I had been with the equally venomous male caricatures of ‘On the Bench’. It made me wonder whether there are still forms of speech and behaviour in which it is acceptable for men, and not women, to partake: bawdy jokes, foul gestures, innuendo and bodily functions are unapologetically included in a way that would seem far less unusual in a male comic performance. In that sense, a strip club is the perfect setting to explore this idea, since the women are totally nonplussed about the sexuality of the human body as it’s simply the way they earn their rent. You leave ‘Dances for Wolves’ wondering who the production has really sent up, but regardless of that, you leave feeling thoroughly entertained.


Kate Abnett

at 12:18 on 19th Aug 2011



Class Stage Productions has brought two shows to this year’s Fringe – the same writer, director and cast put on On The Bench and Dances For Wolves each night. As a project, it aims to find out which role females play best – male footballers, or female strippers. After watching the raucously funny On The Bench, I took my seat anticipating another bit of tongue-in-cheek fun-pokery. Five women in lingerie proceeded to terrify me for an hour. This play is dirty. The ruffled knickers on the floor of the stage was the first nudge I had towards this conclusion. The plus-sized dominatrix was the next. This is a shameless performance that gets as controversial as the subject it deals with.

Playwright Kirsty Eyre writes about stripping with a style that is spot on. From start to finish, there is just enough slapstick and ridiculousness to make the audience feel at ease enough to enjoy the humour – no mean feat in a play dealing with single parent strippers and other potentially uncomfortable moments. One scene featured a group of abusive dwarves getting a lap-dance.

While the explicit costumes ensured there was no mistaking that this was a play about the art of performance, it ventured briefly into other realms. The plot saw five strippers competing to win a cash prize, in a talent show format that seemed like a twisted parody of Miss World. The women behind those awful sexy smiles were also somewhat exposed, as the audience learned what the characters were thinking mid-pole dance. However, these insights were often run of the mill humour (“Did I leave the oven on?”). Overall, the script didn’t delve especially deep into any of the themes raised, and too many references to ASBOs, STDs and boob jobs made the writing feel a little lazy in parts.

Similarly, repetition of comedic structures – for example, the strippers not understanding long words – occurred too often. The stripping duo Pacha and Melanoma provided some great, quick banter, but generally the writing felt a bit mis-matched. Some of the best jokes were completely irrelevant to the scenes they were in, and needed long-winded digressions or anecdotes to fit them in.

In keeping with the play’s focus on the act of performance, aspects of cabaret were used throughout. The variety of performance styles used is what keeps this show afloat, although perhaps due to the imposingly huge heels the cast donned, some scenes didn’t really go anywhere. For example, parody songs featured in abundance – while generally well received by the audience (burlesque classic Fever was neatly moulded into a ditty about syphilis), they lasted for too long and with too little wit.

At the core of this production is a novel idea and a cast with talent and enthusiasm just enough to carry the script. However, the show really feels too long, and repetition of jokes and themes takes its toll on the audience’s overall enjoyment. Playwright Kirsty Eyre can be brilliant, and I urge anyone looking for humour with a bit of dirt to go see her other show. One of the best things I’ve seen at the festival, On The Bench has great writing and fine comedic acting where Dances For Wolves has nipple tassels and sexually frustrated dwarves.


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