Modern Dance for Beginners

The Dukes – Saturday, 16th January 2010

Reviewed by Till Owlglass

Imagine a nice orderly British brunette inviting you to a dinner party at her place where you’ll expect to be served something good and wholesome like cottage pie or beef roast. And then imagine your complete and utter surprise when, to your delight, you are served burgundy beef or home made spaghetti al pesto by a sizzling Italian sorcereress and her blonde Belarusian girlfriend.

And you’re the only guest.

A similar experience happened to me when I went to see Modern Dance for Beginners by the Eastenders & Westway script writer Sarah Phelps. I had been given a flyer promoting Modern Dance for Beginners at the Dukes by a University of Cumbria undergraduate in Sainsbury’s the night before, looked at it, scratched my nose and thought ‘Why not?’.

Not expecting much when I went to The Dukes on Saturday 16th January, I was astonished.  The cast and crew of Modern Dance for Beginners were all students from the School of Media and Performing Arts at the University of Cumbria, and the production and performances were as slick as anything done by professionals, but more amazingly it had balls unlike a lot of British theatre productions I have seen.

Modern Dance for Beginners – a tale about a man who consummates his marriage not with his wife but with a former girlfriend who likes sex but not relationships, a story about a wife who knows that her husband loves another woman so she engages her builder for jobs beyond his trade description, an account of a romantic who is involved with the woman who likes sex but not relationships, and the tale of a bastard boss who likes role-playing games with his oncologist – was an accurate and dry observation of romantic relationships and marvelously witty and highly refreshing.

Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (aka La Ronde), a play assembled as a round dance with the scenes moving from couple to couple till it returns to the original couple in the first scene (as they say in Italy: Marriage is one long and complex dance which only ends with death), Modern Dance for Beginners was satisfactorily close to the bone and used honest language (yes, the f word, a c word, the v word and other sexually fitting words were used). I had to both laugh out loud at the various clever moves of the game of chess that is human coupling (Woman to her lover who has just married another woman: Do you love her? Answer (after a pause): She’s nice) and wince at the scenes reminiscent of my own romantic experiences.

Funnily enough, the play, which exposes those realities of passionate relationships that we like to deny but thrive on, was sponsored by Butterfly Bridal on New Street and The Bridal Collection on North Road. Who says people these days haven’t got a sense of humour?

Although Modern Dance for Beginners is set at five different times in five different places, due to the intimacy and brevity of the scenes and the controlled unfussiness of the production, one got the impression of being trapped in one single house with one big family constantly bickering which conjured up a Chekhovian atmosphere, and that is always a good thing.

Full marks to set designer Rachel Daniels then, but Modern Dance for Beginners was a great success as it was a team effort, and so it would be inappropriate really to name individuals, so apart from Rachel Daniels, the director Stuart Glasgow, the stage manager Stephanie Kinsey, her deputy Matthew Turner and (in no particular order) the actors Pazy Iqbal, Natalie Odell, Hayley Marlow, Scott McColm, Lee Gulwell, Claire Duckmanton, and John-Mark Reid (who had the dubious honour of playing the least sympathetic of all the characters) should be mentioned too.

However, if there was one fly in the soup, sorry burgundy beef, it was that two or three people had ‘forgotten’ to switch off their mobile phones (Most inconsiderate. People who do not switch off their mobiles at the theatre really should be taken out and forced to watch The X Factor or The Eurovision Song Contest on a loop while having their genitals savaged by piranhas with blunt teeth). But then again, I did enjoy the actors lightening up onstage which hopefully annoyed members of the Fascists’ Puritan Brigade (Was it just me or did some creep in the far corner immediately take out his asthma inhaler when an actor would light up?).

Apart from that, I felt as if I had been tied to a chair after gorging on homemade spaghetti al pesto and then being used all night long by my hostess and her girlfriend, while in-between engaging in deep philosophical discussions fuelled by Calvados and Camel cigarettes.


Copyright ‘Jomar de Vrind 2010’


3 Responses

  1. Sorry to have missed this. I think I saw these guys do ‘The Balcony’ last year. Impressive stuff. Really enjoyed it.

  2. Hi. Many thanks for the review. It means a lot that you enjoyed our show, however “the creep” with the inhaler you referred to is infact my father who not only is a smoker and would have no problem with anybody lighting up anywhere but unfortunatley this weekend was suffering with a rather bad throat inflamation and needed his inhaler to help him breathe. Please consider how your words may affect people before you trash them. Again many thanks for the review.

  3. The tone of the more provocative comments in this review should surprise nobody familiar with the scatological pranks of the original Till Owlglass, source of the reviewers pseudonym. Nevertheless I’m not sure the vitriol about supposed fascist puritans adds anything to the review. Given the remarks elsewhere about divisive awards, I’m surprised nobody has picked on this one.
    As with other controversial elements such as nudity or swearing the issue with smoking should be simple. Is it relevant or necessary to the play to include it?

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