The other day I saw DV8's new show Can We Talk About This?
I've done two blogs ( blog 1 blog 2) about how it wasn't as good as I'd expected it to be. But I do want to speak a bit about its strengths. About its potential to have been great.
There were four amazing dances that combined arresting visual images, surprising and challenging movements, and interesting and engaging character led speeches. There were also other moments that were less complete but still contained great theatrical ideas. It's really hard to write about visuals and movement so I'm not going to waste our time trying to convey these moments now. Also if you do go they'll be much more exciting if they happen unexpectedly.
The problem with the show was that these moments weren't explored or expanded. They weren't made into motifs, they just weren't developed.
If this had been a work in progress and not a show in The National Theatre performed by my favourite dance group I would have called it promising. Certainly the performers potential is far more than promising. They were clearly amazingly talented. They had fantastic technique. It was a privilege to see them even if I wish they'd shown their skills more.
A lot of time and effort had gone into creating a polemic script made up of the words of real people. It sketches out the argument that liberal democracies need to stop being so scared to attack radical
Islam face on and advocates insisting that Muslims obey and conform to our national standards. It makes the argument that we should oppose oppression of women, homophobia, arranged marriages, violence and censorship. It suggests that "the liberals" need to stop being afraid to talk about these problems. It indicates that government policy should shift to a different form of integration that pushes cultures into ours more strongly, rather than encouraging co-existence.
This text is well argued. It has some great themes. It has a coherent point of view. It's a good starting point for some physical theatre. You could take it and those promising physical moments and develop them into something amazing. Something visceral, human and challenging. Something with a better balance of movement and words.
I wonder if DV8 have passed the point where people say "that's promising , now go away and work it, push it, develop it further." I suspect they have.
Which is a shame.
The audience the piece addresses is exactly the people the one it wants to challenge. The liberal middle class (who go to theatres) and who, in the name of multiculturalism, allow radical Islam off the hook. But they are also the audience who like things because they are meant to. Who will happily walk out of theatres saying things are "interesting". Who will put up with under-developed theatre because they are told it is worthy, because it has an academic write up in the programme, because they "should" like it and precisely because it is about a controversial subject.
If the work wanted to shake up and challenge this audience it either failed or didn't need to. The audience whooped and hollered at the end. The performers came on twice for curtain calls to rapturous applause. Everyone I heard leaving were gushing about how "interesting" it was.
And because of this kind if reaction I worry that DV8 will never feel the need to develop this work. The audience and the work seem in tune with each other. Except for me. What I see as promising they see as critically valid.
But will it remain with them as an experience? Will they think of the show again? Will it have a life after the hype?
I don't think so.