WHAT SONGS MAY DO – Theatre Royal Plymouth

12 JUNE 2023


Two men walk on to the stage and to the emotional strains of Nina Simone singing ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, they take the audience on a journey through the ups and downs of their relationship in dance and drama and silence. It is, to put it simply, one of the most riveting pieces of theatre I have sat through.

Contemporary dance can often be regarded as mysterious, opaque, maybe, incomprehensible, what sets Rendez-vous’s ‘What Songs May Do’ apart is the strength of a story and it’s telling. The use of a dramarurg, Andrew Gardiner, helps provide a clarity which draws the audience deep into the tale of a relationship in trouble; this is as dramatic a non-verbal production as you could ever want to witness.

Thus, we witness the arguments, the frustrations, the playfulness, the love, the separation, the reconciliation and the passion – a section where the pair gracefully strip to their underwear and indulge in the physical side of their love transforms the viewer into voyeur; so delicate, so beautiful and so erotic – should we be watching?

Mathieu Geffré’s choreography combines stillness with flashes of speed and acrobatics; intense closeness and distance, mouth-opened silent screaming and tenderness. It is sublime work and brought to life by Oliver Chapman and Paolo Pisarra who work so beautifully together that at times you could be forgiven for thinking that they have morphed into the same body. The control of movement exhibited by both performers is exceptional and the rhythm which their bodies bring to the story is like the meter of poetry. Poetic this production certainly is.

Lighting always plays such an important part in dance and there is no exception here. Rachel Shipp provides corridors of lights from the four corners and minimal overhead illumination – often the level is pushed to the lower limit which helps emphasise the changes in the relationship we are watching. A section of short vignettes of the pair’s life is lit with precision and care.

As with lighting, so sound of any kind creates the backdrop for a story and throughout we have the music of Nina Simone whose soulful, emotion-laden voice is beyond perfect as a choice. The use of a live recording of her version of ‘Feelings’ for the climax of the performance is an accompaniment saturated in passion and is an underscoring which works magnificently. Simone’s voice and skills as a pianist have barely been put to better use.

Then between the songs are sections where complete silence takes over – I cannot recall being part of an audience who remain so still, so rooted into their seats, so beguiled by what they see played out in front of them.

This is an hour which feels like five minutes – because it goes so quickly – but also like a lifetime – because you live the vicissitudes of the relationship throughout. This is dance of the very highest quality. This is theatre at its most involving. This is an illustration of skills at its finest.

The audience is left drained, exhilarated and drenched in admiration. Songs may do many things, dance does as much. Outstanding.







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