Saniya Saraf appreciates Death and Dancing, a stand up theatre show exploring the labels we put on one another and the performative nature of gender and sexuality, presented by Lion Theatre Company.
A duologue is challenging, as exacting to direct as it is to perform. It is easy for an audience member to become abstracted from it, making audience engagement both precarious and artful to achieve. It is also pertinent to mention that my eyes did not moment stray from the stage for a moment during LTC’s Death and Dancing. The show stands as a true testimony to minimalistic, character-driven theatre.
The set and costume design are particularly striking – while minimalist to the core, they retain a charming quality. The costume swap through the course of the play is impressively conducted; Ben Smart’s pilot of dresses is perhaps a highlight in itself. In their interactive stage presence, both Smart, ‘He’, and Eliana Franks, ‘She’, display an affinity for incredible comic timing, extracting multiple bouts of laughter. Claire Dowie’s play questions and toys with notions of labels and the fundamentals of queer politics, making it a dialogue-heavy hour. Director Lowri Mathias adroitly focuses the movement on stage to include bouts of humorous dancing and effective, full use of the stage. The actors jump about using the apron to address the audience, retaining the quality of their monologues and the stand-up nature of the writing.
Franks’ performance is noteworthy; she skilfully raves and rants while successfully incorporating the androgynous value of her character. What is particularly remarkable is the contrast between the two actors’ body language, effectively tinkering the lines between masculinity and femininity. There is undeniably an applaudable stage chemistry between the two; the dialogue rolls off their tongues seemingly instinctually, the banter appearing natural and realistic. Smart and Franks are perfectly in sync, both movement and dialogue interconnecting with the other. Their dispositions on stage switch in and out of stereotypical gendered behaviour, and this essence of Dowie’s work is successfully depicted.
Smart is unshakable in his portrayal. He compliments Franks and delivers his monologue with ease and experience. His ability to identify the tone and quality of the humour is what drives his dialogue to deliver hilariously. The acting is powerful; the characters are done justice by the actors’ unwavering interpretation and subsequent performance of the humour in Dowie’s writing.
There are occasional slips and awkward moments, and it is evident that the show could use more rehearsal time. It can also be argued that the production takes an overly minimalistic tone concerning sound and tech; however, I believe this heightens and foregrounds the dialogue, ensuring it stays true to its stand up theatre character.
Overall, LTC’s Death and Dancing is funny, intelligent and effectively explorative of the lines between labels and queer identity. The performances are bold and not shy of the vigour Dowie’s characters’ possess, making it a delight to watch. In this simple yet engaging production, Mathias proves her ability to create a charming and captivating adaption of Dowie’s classic.
Death and Dancing performs at the Assembly Rooms Theatre from 18th to 19th June. Tickets are available to purchase here.
All image credits: Lion Theatre Company.