THEATRE new shows

DANCE David Dorfman Dance Company

Edinburgh: Traverse, Sat 15 Mar. Glasgow: CCA, Tue 18 & Wed 19 Mar.

New York dancer/choreographer David Dorfman spends a lot of time standing on his head. Or balancing on his shoulders. Or balancing on his shoulders with saxophone in hand.

Yes, Dorfman is that rarest of things in the trendy modern dance world, a showman who prefers the wit and wisdom of bendy bodies to the po- faced execution of seriously cool steps. In America he’s known for a style that falls somewhere between physical comedy and wacky contemporary dance, with text and a few groovy sax tunes thrown in for good measure.

Not your average dance deal. But then Dorfman is not your average dancer. Brought up in Chicago with a salesman father, he spent his childhood playing baseball and American football and watching comedy shows. After high school he did the right thing and studied business and of course baseball. Then in the second semester of his third year, something most unexpected happened. Dorfman wandered into a college dance class.

'I can't even remember why,’ he says. ’I just saw it in the catalog and thought, "Wow - sounds cool.” But I loved it from the first ten seconds and I knew it was what I wanted to do.’

Now a dancer/choreographer of notable standing (and with a stack of awards on his mantelpiece) Dorfman has hung up the catcher's mitt and profit sheets for good. Dropping in on Scotland this month for shows at Glasgow's experimental dance festival New Moves and Edinburgh's Traverse, he brings two fellow dancers and a mixed bag of the kooky duets and solos that make up his act.

Among those likely to be on show is his newest work Job, a wry little number involving two businessmen tied up and juggling with four telephones. It is, Dorfman says, more than just a crazy idea.

'We're bartering commodities such as trust, friendship and love,‘ says Dorfman of his ’phone piece'. ‘We're tied together with these telephone cables, trying to negotiate our relationship over the lines.’ As BT almost say, it’s good to dance about talking. (Ellie Carr)

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Shoulder to the wheel: David Dorfman

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DRAMA The Birthday Party

Glasgow: Arches Theatre, until Sat 15 Mar. at t v: 1r

Harold Pinter is said to have become politicised late in life, partly through his involvement with Amnesty International. But his first full-length play The Birthday Party - written in 1957-8 - contains as vivid an account of oppression as any drama of human rights abuse.

Set in a rundown seaside boarding house - where time itself has been brought to a standstill by simple-hearted fantasist Meg and her decrepit husband Petey - it centres on their sole guest Stanley, a man on the run who passes himself off as a concert pianist. We never discover the nature of Stanley's offence; but when two sinister strangers arrive, it soon becomes clear that they're on his case. Within 24 hours they have turned his allies against him and menaced him into abject submission; leaving him unable to speak.

The key scene is an interrogation in which the two men subject Stanley to a prolonged barrage of nonsense questions he clearly can't answer. This episode has more in common with Pinter's explicit depiction of psychological torture One For The Road (written in 1984) than it does with true absurdists like Beckett and lonesco. When the gangsters - Jewish Goldberg and Irish McCann - evoke their heritage to bolster their sense of righteousness, there's an inescapable whiff of the way religious ideologies can be exploited to justify atrocities.

In a co-production between the Arches and her own company Theatre Galore, director Muireann Kelly tackles this material in a thoroughly conventional manner - the one breach with tradition being an interval break at the climax of act two, a rather

Party from hell 1: Andy Arnold and Sarah Gudgeon in The Birthday Party

awkward solution for the play's three-act structure, which belongs to an era when two intervals were the norm.

From the shabby clutter of Veronica Rennie's set to the 505 detail of the costumes, everything speaks of authenticity, an approach which serves the play very well. It may be locked into its period, but then the milieu Pinter describes is a very specific one, drawn from his own experience as a touring actor, and its day has passed. To update it would be to dilute, rather than enhance, its relevance.

Equally authentic are the fine performances from an extremely able cast of six, no member of which should be singled out for praise, since there is a noticeable ensemble spirit at work. In all, this is a neat and intelligent production of a play that hasn't lost its quirky humour or its chilling political dimension. (Andrew Burnet)

DRAMA Abigail's Party On tour. Hut

Mike Leigh‘s cruelly bleak comedy of embarrassment takes place in two cultural wastelands: suburbia and the 705. Set in the gaudin decorated home of domineering Beverley and her stressed-out husband Laurence, it invites contempt, pity and a smidgeon of sympathy for five spiritually barren English suburbanites: the central couple; their bland new neighbours Angela and Tony; and worry-sick Sue, whose teenage daughter Abigail is throwing a wild party next door. As Beverley plies her guests with g 'n’ ts, the social niceties fall away to reveal

interesting performance as a result.

Grant Smeaton’s portrayal of Beverley is impossible to ignore, and certainly convincing, defying categorisation as a drag act; but the accent and tics belong to Steadman, whose performance ingrained as it is on the national consciousness is inevitably definitive.

Much of the original’s agonising humour has survived, and at moments this version is extremely entertaining. Revelling in period kitsch, it also provides unexpected reminders of the social changes since the 705 a new perspective never intended by Leigh, whose simulation of fly-on-the-wall naturalism was designed to convey a slice of contemporary life.

empty hearts and embittered marriages. The eventual consequences are disastrous.

First screened on BBC television in 1977, Abigail’s Party was created through Leigh's unique devising process - a close collaboration with the actors, led.(as in other cases) by his wife, Alison Steadman.

The script has become a popular theatre piece, but its structure is inherently televisual, demanding camera movement to shift focus and capture nuance. More importantly, the original performances were so strong


Party from hell 2: Grant Smeaton and Ross Stenhouse in Abigail's Party

and so inseparable from the writing itself that it's always seemed unlikely to work. One strategy would be to forget the original cast altogether, but Ross Stenhouse's interpretation for Tangerine Productions (now revived as a co-production with Paisley Arts Centre) seems intent on imitation. All the characterisati‘ons are apparently based on the originals, aside from Jill Riddiford’s Angela - perhaps the most

Ultimately, though, Stenhouse (who also plays Laurence) fails to nurse the complex web of power-struggles underlying the comedy through that awkward transition from screen to stage, and the potency of the climax - devastating in Leigh's version is diminished. (Andrew Burnet)

I For tour dates see page 70.

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