Review – Can We Talk About This?, National Theatre

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Imagine Louie Spence dropping acid and appearing on the Question Time panel.

An alarming prospect isn’t it? Not entirely beyond the realm of possibility; that well-known political commentator and sometime pop star Will Young made another appearance on the show last week. Not that we’re suggesting either of them would ever ‘drop acid’ or whatever the it is the young people tune in with these days.

But it might give you a flavour of what to expect should you see Can We Talk About This? (currently taking up a brief residency at the National Theatre) which sees dancers speaking the verbatim dialogue of others whilst hopping about and stretching their bodies into peculiar shapes.

DV8‘s Lloyd Newson has collated a collage of interviews, discussions and voices on multiculturalism, censorship, extremism and Islam. There’s a lot of bouncing about, jerky head movements and contorted bodies whilst delivering the words. Think London Road with dance (and presumably a chiropractor on standby backstage) but sadly not a hint of ummm, hanging baskets.

Over 80 minutes it covers opinions and subjects from Shirley Williams to Salman Rushdie, from the Danish Muhammed cartoons to the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh and many others with funny names we’d forgotten or never heard of.

Phil was astonished at the multicultural cast’s abilities to speak the words mostly audibly whilst hanging from a beam, standing on their hands, drawing on their own bodies with a black marker or doing up their flies upside down. Andrew was unimpressed (“How hard can it be?” is Andrew’s life motto).

With no real understanding of the language of contemporary dance Phil found the choreography highly inventive and crisply executed (some West End choruses should take note) but even he had to concede to Andrew that it doesn’t really add much to what Andrew felt was “a lecture”. In fact sometimes it’s downright distracting as if watching a lecturer attacking Western liberalism whilst suffering from an extreme case of St. Vitus Dance.

A dancer breaks the fourth wall (and the second wall slowly and literally encroaches on the fourth – though it took us a long time to realise this) posing a question at to the audience at the outset: “Do you feel morally superior to the Taliban?” Perhaps most in the audience assumed the question to be rhetorical as only about 20% percent raised their hands. Maybe they just didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps the question should have been posed again at the end of the piece to see if we were feeling differently after the onslaught of horrors described. Although by then we might have been too afraid to raise anything.

Whilst somewhat bitty, overstaying its welcome slightly and never really building to a satisfying dramatic climax Phil still found it incredibly original, the examples pointing up the inconsistencies of freedom of speech thought-provoking and was generally mesmerised, none more so than a scene where a woman intones the words of MP Ann Cryer about forced marriages whilst balancing a cup and saucer and being moved around by another dancer’s body parts. The Whingers concurred on that one.

Cirque du Soleil has raised its tent at Speaker’s Corner.


Minority Report

Andrew writes: A courageous, stimulating and interesting topic but (1) WTF was all that jiggling about for? At least it stopped the piece being  a David Hare play and one must be grateful for small mercies. And (2) if the thesis of the show had been something with which the National Theatre audience disagreed (“suffrage should be withdrawn from women and non-landowners”) then the general critical response to this show would probably have been one star rather than four. I found it interesting in spite of the hopping but that may not have been the response for which DV8 was aiming.

4 Responses to “Review – Can We Talk About This?, National Theatre”

  1. Eddie Says:

    Bizarre experience last night. i can only agree with the Whingers commenst – “Imagine Louie Spence dropping acid and appearing on the Question Time panel” They established their case (if it needed any spelling out) that Islamic fundamentalism is anti-Democratic and proceeded to lecture us with examples for what seemed an interminable 80 minutes. The “dancing” added nothing to the exposition and i had to close my eyes several times to concentrate on the words and not be distracted by the contortions on stage. My main concern is this may come over as an anti-Islam rant whereas IMHO it is only the branch that preaches unprecedented extremism that is the problem. I’s not recommend this one and wished we’d stayed in the bar and listened to the jazz band.

  2. max Says:

    I completely disagree with the comment above.

    I found this the most vital piece of theatre in London today, if only because it nails supine liberal fear (of which I have myself been guilty) of giving offence to Islamic precepts.

    Example? Michael Billington complains that the production voices arguments that have been heard incessantly over the last few years. What he fails to mention is that these issues have almost nowhere been expressed – let alone argued – in a theatrical or cultural context. It is very sobering to think that many British girls and boys in UK Muslim faith schools would not be allowed to see this show, not because of any criticism of Islam (though what is wrong with that?), but because dance and ballet are art forms disallowed as being ‘indecent’ by such schools.

  3. Samira Ahmed Says:

    The Anne Cryer choreography was my fave moment too. Lloyd Hewson said there was a fun point in the choreography about her using a man’s body as a prop. Felt a bit sorry for “Ayaan Hirsi Ali” having to be in a bikini drawing all over herself in a marker pen though. Having interviewed both a few times for the News I feel the bar has been raised in making future interviews more visually stimulating.

  4. aculturedlad Says:

    I loved this show. Not only was the dancing mesmerising but I was so intrigued. I felt that the play wouldn’t have worked unless it was DV8 style movement along with the interview. It would’ve been pretty dull to sit through an hour and 20 minutes of people reading out interviews!

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