A World Without Words

Wed 3rd – Sat 20th August 2011

reviews

Imogen Sarre

at 14:50 on 19th Aug 2011

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This is the first five stars that I have given. Not because I haven’t seen some truly fantastic plays, but because I haven’t previously left a performance literally buzzing with adrenalin, unable to stop myself exclaiming about its sheer brilliance to the randomer next to me.

A story of a disappointed romance told wholly through music and words, this production is both energetic and energising. This will make everyone want to be young, fit and supple, able to embrace the physical possibilities of their bodies and move with the vitality and flamboyant enjoyment that these talented performers did. It is all the more impressive because the people dancing before you are not pros with accompanying professional resources, but students from Durham University. Perversely, it is the occasional glimpses of its student roots that makes this outstanding Fringe: the slightly out of time skipping at the start; quick adjustments made to clothes when not in full blackout; the Touch ‘N’ Go ‘Would You’ song that goes on a little too long; the plastered up bare feet of bruised performers; the ladders in tights; and the excessively loud and piercing background music on speakers that couldn’t quite take it. Like many who are not bestowed with the best natural grasp of music or dance, performances which seem so beautifully effortless can sometimes lull me into a false sense of the ease with which such effects can be managed and created. These minor flaws are reminders that it is no easy matter at all.

Initially, it seemed that the group scenes were the most impressive, the high energy of all involved literally bounced off the walls. Tamara Gates exuded sexuality and was quite overpoweringly mesmerising, almost detracting from the chorus nature of the scenes and from the stage presence of the lead, Emma Cave. However, as the piece progressed, Cave’s acting and dancing abilities really shone through, making her the indisputable star of the show. She was incredibly competent, but it was her ability to engage audiences and emotionally involve them in her story that made her so very compelling. The moments where anger was focused on the red coat (a possession of the women who had stolen her partner’s heart) were absolutely phenomenal. Her performance made me properly think through, for the first time ever, the sordid practical realities of discovering you had been cheated on. Perhaps the very physicality of dance means that emotions don’t have to be so consciously registered on faces (a classic downfall of much acting) and therefore can be so much more naturalistic and moving.

The innovatively choreographed moves were stunningly effective at conveying specific emotions at different points in time, providing memorable representations of how two different people could feel at the same time. I’m thinking particularly of the scene with Emma Cave and Korantema Anyimadu, when the two women mirror one another’s moves, making you realise that although one is being cheated on and the other is doing the cheating, they are both in the same predicament of loving a person they shouldn’t. The fight between Cave and Richie Wong, the initial couple, was quite superbly rendered as well, conveying with beautiful subtlety the intimacy of their past history at the same time as illustrating the upset and anger that comes with disappointed dreams. Although set along a simple storyline, the characters weren’t two dimensionally ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ but instead were just very human. The female parts in this were undeniably stronger than their male counterparts, but Wong ably assisted Cave to realise her full potential onstage, an admirable feat in itself (I imagine it must be pretty tricky to find a ‘lifter’ in a university).

Jonathan Grande's direction and Frances Teehan's choreography worked really well together. I loved the soundtrack and the fact we got to listen to the complete songs. It is really extremely impressive that the movement and focus of the scenes correlated with and complemented the tone of the accompanying music so brilliantly – the action never felt drawn out or stagnated, nor were the shifts to subsequent songs harsh or uncomfortable. Nuances of songs were brought out in interesting way so that I viewed them in a completely new light: Mumford and Sons’ ‘I Gave You All’ was quite devastatingly effective when used as the foundation for extreme rage. The lighting and smoke was generally good, but was particularly effective for the first bed scene, contributing to the sense of intimacy. This scene was noticeably well handled; it never resorted to gratuitously overt sexuality, instead concluding with a duvet being placed over the pair. It became a sweet and rather lovely moment to treasure, rather than particularly sexual or shocking – exactly the right balance for a couple who charmed by their lovely normality. There were a couple of possibly unnecessary clichés – the faked yawn to arm over shoulder wasn’t a strong enough image to be repeated at the end, and the pillow fight was a bit clumsy and unbelievable (when was the last time that actually happened?!). However, these were brief interludes in an accomplished, tightly constructed, well-developed and thought through piece.

At the very end of the performance, there was a lovely compressed revisiting of the emotional journey that we had been taken on. Circling the protagonists, couples from the Chorus re-enacted the hope of new love, and then the horribly saddening failure of it. A terribly disappointing conclusion to have, it nonetheless made me realise how entirely I had been gripped by this performance, how easily they had made me feel the potency of hope and how rapidly they could crush it. Ultimately, however, the bleak path that the piece trod did not leave me feeling downhearted. Something about the raw physicality of the whole spectacle meant that the production retained an uplifting quality, leaving me more than a tad ashamed at the end that I hadn’t had the courage to start a standing ovation.

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Olivia Edwards

at 14:57 on 19th Aug 2011

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No plot could be simpler than boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy cheats on girl, but this common chain of events becomes exquisite, euphoric, excruciating in A World Without Words. The production documents how a relationship between boy and girl grows, deepens and is pulled apart solely through a blend of contemporary and classical dance, demonstrating that the language of love – tentative hand-holding, yawning in order to slyly stretch arms around shoulders, secret smiles – requires no words. The most impressive thing about this production is that it is a completely original piece of work from a company of extremely talented Durham students, most of which have had little or no professional training. This is a beautifully executed piece of musical theatre that lives up to its fantastic reputation.

A World Without Words is more than just a wonderful spectacle. The story is utterly involving, leading its audience to feel what the characters feel. This shared sympathy is in part facilitated by the show’s track list, which is extremely well devised to compliment and heighten the emotion that the characters on stage are experiencing – the likes of The Kinks provide the soundtrack to their love while Damien Rice and Coldplay are the sound of their heartbreak. Words would have disrupted this community of feeling: talk of happiness or pain would have seemed contrived and reductive in comparison. As it stands, Frances Teehan’s choreography is so masterful that the production speaks volumes, with every stretch and lift working to tell the story and to convey a character’s emotions.

The best performers in the piece were those who could act as well as dance, and Emma Cave – the principal girl who falls in love with boy – was outstanding at both. She was the embodiment of sweetness and innocence as the girl who arrives at the club without a dancing partner and is adorably coy as she catches the attention of the only single boy in the room. As their relationship blossoms, her rapture is infectious and as it disintegrates, her sorrow was extremely moving to watch – I felt tears in my eyes as she danced to ‘I Gave You All’ (Mumford and Sons). Richie Wong as the principal boy is a wonderful partner for Emma Cave, equally endearing as the nervy single boy in the club and equally rapturous when in love. Above all, Richie Wong’s biggest strength was his ability to lift female dancers with apparent ease and elegance. Another performer whose strength lies primarily in her elegance is the third principal dancer, Korantema Anyimadu, the woman in red who tempts the boy away from his partner. I was mesmerized throughout her performance with Richie Wong to the song ‘Accidental Babies’ in which she moves with the grace and poise of a ballerina. The six chorus members were also fantastic. Although it was evident that the boys had had significantly less dance training than the girls, their energy and the moments of comedy in the vignettes (like the one set in the cinema) brought much needed lightness to a piece that tells quite a sad story.

One minor criticism of the performance I saw yesterday was that certain songs were just a bit too loud, which was quite distracting – this was most apparent in the Kinks’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’. I am sure this is something that can be altered very easily. Another more personal criticism is that I felt that the shunned girl’s (Emma Cave) removal of an engagement ring at the very end of the piece disrupted the narrative I had constructed in my head during the production. This narrative was based on the notion that the love story being played out is between two students at university – the night club, the bashfulness of the two leads, the single bed, the abundance of checked-shirts – all seemed to point towards this setting. I loved the notion that the small-scale everyday dramas that happen to students everywhere and are usually narrated through facebook statuses are here explored in a novel, sophisticated and moving way. The engagement ring simply felt out of place with the other directorial decisions that had been made. As this is a devised piece I imagine the storyline was in constant flux throughout the rehearsal and development stages and it’s inevitable that somewhere along the line only shadows of initial ideas remain, I think this ring is just the remnant of one of those initial ideas that no longer plays a central role in the story.

A World Without Words is a truly accomplished production that opens up a whole new world of possibilities for musical theatre. I hope that director Jonnie Grande and choreographer Frances Teehan go on to produce many more shows like this one. I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

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