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

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