Originally reviewed Thursday 14 September 2017 for Londondance.com
As the door opens to the Robin Howard theatre the audience walk into the dark, clutching a raffle ticket with an air of intriguing expectation. All we know is that we will not be seated, it will be immersive and, with a title like Deadclub, most definitely creepy. The programme points out that our expectations, even those of the theatrical design, are based on information from the past, which allows us to plan for the future. Perhaps this is why when we see a very different theatrical set-up it is initially startling.As we enter the space we become guests into a monochrome macabre party welcoming our inevitable death and celebrating at once its beauty and violence. We take our place next to the shoulder height stage where our party hat is waiting.
Both the design and stagecraft involved in the production is simply breathtaking and grabs your attention from the beginning. The use of the stage is truly creative; there is nothing creepier than watching performers emerge limb-by-limb through the floor and melt in an inhuman fashion back into the ground. Through the clever use of lighting and trap doors, objects appear and disappear as if by magic on the stage. The performers are precise and cold in their deathly delivery.
If memory evolved to make us look forward then Deadclub is formed from our confusing and surreal memories of a possible dreadful future. The element of chance is a constant theme, which begins with the handing of a raffle ticket to the audience, which leads us to our place in the party then the moving spotlight, which threatens to land on you and seal an unknown fate. Is this our death? If it is, this feels like a waiting room for hell. A performer dressed in shredded underpants begins to create a eulogy for one unlucky audience member while another member appears to be stolen away.
The images become increasingly satanic when a blazing fire rises and sinks from the ground; animals both dead and dying appear and the performers walk apace with their arms crossed above their heads. As we reach the climax the piece builds in intensity as the performers pace around the floor only pausing to perform some unison choreography. Suddenly there is an urgent purpose to their movement, which is energising and engaging. The performers continue to walk round and round and round the stage, the repetition makes it feel relentless as if it will never end.
The piece is so choreographically controlled and visually engineered that the hands of the directors are always present and never forgotten. The audience are able to observe the party at a relatively safe distance to enjoy the visual spectacle but it does not engage on an emotional level neither does it shock or scare. The whole piece has such a deliberate use of ghoulish stage tricks and artistic surrealism such as the fluffy pink balls that seem alive rolling round next to a dead deer. It is a striking image but too arty to be terrifying.
Rhiannon Brace is a physical theatre practitioner and choreographer. Find her @rhiannonbrace and www.rhiannonbrace.com