Review: Smack That (a conversation)

I went to a party last night. Bev’s party. I was greeted by Bev – a bevy of Bevs actually. Shimmering in matching grey dresses and wigs, they fizzed with anticipation and excitable banter erupted round the room like bubbles escaping from a bottle of Prosecco. I found out I was a Bev too. “Brogue Bev” – named after my stylist choice of footwear. I sat between “Dungaree Bev” and “Proper lager Bev”.

Choreographer Rhiannon Faith uses the intimacy of a party and a multiplicity of Beverlys to tell real-life stories of domestic abuse. Awash with party games and quick fire wit, a sense of conviviality ripples through the small audience. Smack That (a conversation) is co-created by women who have experienced abuse or violence. Faith extends that partnership to the audience, inviting us to participate in the performance.

Silly games burrow into darker seams. The Bevs slowly reveal their experiences of abusive partners. We’re led by words and coaxed by small gestures. Where vowels and consonants fall away, movement takes up the heavy lifting. The dancers topple over, as if they are being sucked into the floor. In a dirty battle with gravity they wrestle with an invisible enemy. One Bev has her face repeatedly smashed into a cake, a chilling echo of a forced sex act.

The Bevs are bawdry and rambunctious. They are silly and sassy, bursting balloons between their thighs and gyrating with each other on the dance floor. Faith’s gift is showing these women as whole individuals, eschewing the stereotypes of hollow victims or steely survivors. We can’t hold their experience at arms length or turn away from their anger. For some Bevs in the audience there is a the glimmer of recognition and an offer of support. At every performance there is a chill out space and a qualified therapist to talk to. Smack That is touring the UK until June. All the participating arts venues are J9 centres, where victims of domestic abuse can access a full support system.

Smack That is deeply uncomfortable theatre and this is a good thing. It’s a gut wrenching experience, but etched out of solidarity, compassion and a fierce desire for change.

Review round-up

Tying up some loose ends. It’s been a busy few months reviewing for Bachtrack. I’ve seen some standout performances, including the Company of Elders and Men and Girls Dance. I dusted off five stars for these exceptional performers spanning the generations.

Hannah Sampson’s was captivating in her debut for StopGap Dance Company in The Enormous Room and watching Aakash Odedra develop as a performer and choreographer is fascinating.

You can browse my reviews here


Review: Hannah Buckley and Léa Tirabasso, double bill

Saturday 4th June 2017

Robin Howard Theatre, The Place, London


S/HE Hannah Buckley

TOYS Léa Tirabasso


Choreographers Hannah Buckley and Léa Tirabasso get up close and personal in a double bill at The Place.

S/HE, a duet between Buckley and Simon Palmer, probes questions of feminism and its relevance to men. Describing a parallel world where it is men – not women – who menstruate, Buckley and Palmer dodge one another’s movements like blurted expletives. This is not a duet in the conventional sense. They rarely touch, except in a sequence of knotted embraces.

The piece is centred around extracts of spoken word. It is the text, rather than the dancing, that does the heavy lifting. S/HE is a mixed bag. There are pockets of well-crafted physical humour and choreography that gets under the skin of the issues. Conversely, there are times when what is happening on the stage feels a long way from Buckley’s stated aims.


As performers Buckley and Palmer are articulate and maintain a strong presence. In her solo sequence, Buckley hops and skips like popping candy. Her eclectic, but pared back movements reminiscent of the late Trisha Brown.

Buckley gives her ideas room to breathe using stillness and silence to mediate between the performers and the audience. There is a sense of travelling together, but ultimately this feels like a very personal inquiry. Buckley asks “Does feminism need men and do men need feminism?”.  The premise of these questions feel outmoded  and my sense is that the debate has moved on. S/HE invites us to re-imagine the possibilities of co-existence between men and women, but I don’t see an offering that articulates a space for intersectional, trans or non-binary expressions of gender.

In TOYS, Tirabasso also tackles weighty themes. A cast of five ferocious characters ride a hedonistic wave of non-stop party going. Purple plumes litter the floor from a discarded feather boa. Movements meander through Rosie Terry Toogood’s body in a rare moment of isolation before a fierce drum beat kicks in and her rabble of friends erupt in the space.


Performers oscillate between dancing and flirting – hell bent on having fun. It’s frenetic, their bodies twitching with excitement.  Their revelry is tarnished, the compulsive need for succour and attention corroding into a wretched restlessness. Teasing turns to manipulation. James Finnemore is stripped of his shirt and Joss Carter loses his trousers. Karaoke mutates into a cry for help, but the addictive, clawing thump of Martin Durov’s score snares the dancers into a destructive orbit.

Running at almost an hour, TOYS is absorbing and exhausting to watch. The ensemble work flat out. It’s compulsive viewing; Tirabasso deftly fashions a window onto humanity, a tribe fundamentally ill at ease with itself.

Philippa Newis

Elefeet Dance Festival: Mad Meg

19th November 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell


A cold wintry night is the perfect backdrop to MAZPOD’s new show Mad Meg – a fitting finale to this year’s Elefeet Dance Festival. Meg is a twitching, itching chatterbox. Full of ideas that no-one wants to hear, a burden to her father, farmed out to widowed neighbour.

Phoebe Douthwaite and Marianne Tuckman share the roles of narrator, Meg and her grizzly husband. Their interplay is supple and elastic; growing Meg’s character by shifting her persona between them, contrasting her “madness” with her vulnerability. In the same vein, the choreography ricochets between tenderness and violence. They curl up together cradling each other’s heads and in a striking final sequence, Tuckman – playing Meg – throws herself repeatedly at Douthwaite before ending crumpled on the floor.


Music performed by Laurence Marshall encapsulates the mood of the performance. His accordion breaths in and out, its reedy sound embellishing the spoken word. Flatfoot dancing punctuates the rhythm of speech and falls into conversation with Marshall‘s sweeping melodies.

The pace and tone is darkly upbeat. Beer swilling, belching humour runs alongside a murky tale of abuse. In the cosy upstairs bar, Marshall delights the audience with a pre-show gig – an old-style one man band, complete with bangs and whistles.

Mad Meg is well-rounded piece of story telling. MAZPOD’s production is attention grabbing and soulful. It’s a playful, irreverent mash-up of the vernacular and the theatrical. An engaging first offering from a company I hope to see more of.



Thursday 13th October 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell, London

SIGNS Monica Nicolaides

The Blue Elephant theatre launches this year’s brilliantly-named Elefeet Dance Festival with SIGNS by Monica Nicolaides. Tucked away in Camberwell, the Blue Elephant has firmly established itself as a venue for new dance, working with choreographers to nurture ideas through regular scratch nights and performance opportunities.

In this vein, Nicolaides presents SIGNS as a work in progress. A duet between dancers Laura Heywood and Erena Bordon Sanchez explores British sign language (BSL) and contemporary dance. Inspired by Colin Thompson‘s poem “If I told you I was deaf would you turn away”, it tells a story of thwarted communication, a stylised glimpse of the barriers experienced by a deaf person trying to navigate everyday relationships in a hearing world.

Heywood and Sanchez perform tightly woven choreography with technical assurance. They create a dynamic that captures the fermenting tension when good intentions slip between the cracks of misunderstanding.


Nicolaides uses Heywood and Sanchez with a nuanced calligraphy, fostering a intricate clarity between the two languages. She could afford to live a little more dangerously, exploiting the fractures between these vocabularies. Here, she may find a deeper resonance between the guts of the movement and the emotional commentary she is seeking to bring to life.

SIGNS has the potential to be a fierce of physical theatre, but Nicolaides has to step out of her comfort zone, pushing past an academic dissection of co-existing lexicons and, instead, sinking her teeth into the simmering frustration of Thompson’s poem.

Bumper edition: reviews galore!

I’m catching up with my blog after an extended period of neglect. Here is a rundown of my summer’s reviewing:

In May, I reviewed Obsidan Tear at the Royal Opera House – a world premiere choreographed by Wayne McGregor:

No Body at Sadlers Wells, was a dance performance with no live dancers. One of the most interesting theatrical experiences I’ve had this year:

In June, I wrote an article about Ignition Dance Festival 2016 – a platform for emerging choreographers in Kingston:

I was back at Sadlers Wells in July to review Vamos Cuba. High energy and bursting with sunshine:

And finally, at the end of August, I reviewed Irina Kolesnikova in Her name was Carmen:

London Contemporary Dance School: Music Collaborations

The Place, Robin Howard Theatre

Saturday 5th December 2015


London Contemporary Dance School: Music Collaborations

Yue Ton Kwan/Cameron Dodds Friends Minus Two

Waddah Sinada/Jack Sheen Ominous

Vincent Jonosson/Mo Zhao Constellations

Jamie Chapman/Joshua Borin Personae

Maeve McGreevy/Toby Huelin Another Way of Talking


Music and dance are two sides of the same coin. A melody or a beat sparks an irresistible urge to move; whether to tell a story, push artistic boundaries or to shake one’s tail feathers just for the sheer joy of it.

Students from Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London Contemporary Dance School join forces to explore the marriage between music and movement. There is a distinct absence of tail feathers, instead, five thoughtful pieces expressing the synergy between two constantly evolving art forms.

Choreographer Yue Tong Kwan opens the evening with Friends Minus Two. The dancers contribute their own vocal ticks to Cameron Dodds’ score, giving voice to their physical exertions. Kwan works with a refreshingly light touch, which hints at the absurd, but doesn’t topple over into clowning. Friends Minus Two is a fine-spun weave of choreography and sound.

Ominous, choreographed by Waddah Sinada, is deftly sinister. Dancers encircle one another, spliced by a series of rapid blackouts. Composer Jack Sheen creates a darkly atmospheric score entirely out of percussion. This is a well-crafted, textured work; with tightly-knit, pacey ensemble sequences and crisp articulation of movement. A strong partnership, Sinada and Sheen create and sustain tension, which leaves my spine tingling.

Dancers and musicians enter the stage together at the start of Constellations. The deep, earthy call of a didgeridoo initiates movement. Performers run in wide circles, meeting briefly to connect and disperse. Lilting arpeggios on the piano and trilling violins echo the restless motion. Mo Zhan’s music and Vincent Jonsson’s choreography work hand in glove. The material is a little thin in places, but the piece finds it own rhythm and integrity.

In contrast to the quiet solidarity in Constellations, Personae opens with four solitary figures in hooded dresses, each isolated in a pool of light. Their long skirts catch the residue of their movements, rippling around their legs. Choreographer Jamie Chapman and composer Joshua Borin evoke a brooding inner struggle. A change in mood, reveals their alter-egos. In jeans and t-shirts, the dancers spill out into the space. With forceful, probing gestures, they appear to escape their confinement and experience the world anew.

Another Way of Talking choreographed by Maeve McGreevy ends the evening. The space trembles with the sonorous sound of two cellos, played by David Råberg-Schrello and Katy Reader. In striking black costumes, a trio of dancers penetrate a sparse musical landscape composed by Toby Huelin. Silence and stillness act as a counterpoint to explosions of musical colour and movement, creating contours of light and shade. Another Way of Talking stands out as the most sophisticated exegesis of music and choreography, but it doesn’t quite land. It feels like five competing monologues, rather than a conversation.

Philippa Newis


On 9th and 10th December, London Contemporary Dance School and the Wimbledon College of Art and Design present an evening of explorative dance challenging the role of dancer and designer in performance. For information and tickets, click here.