Pros: Dancing that is as expressive as it is forceful, with the performers pushing themselves to their limits.
Cons: A condensed version with stronger narrative elements would have made the performance snappier and more compact.
A man and a woman hold each other in a tight and loving embrace. In a split second, they wrench themselves away, before coming together again. Violently, he drags her across the floor; she is as limp as a ragdoll. He picks her up; they sway together in the misty light, beautiful movements in perfect harmony.
Running on Empty combines dance, musical elements and narrative elements to portray the story of a woman’s devastating journey after losing the man she loved. Artistic director and actor Antonia Grove is brilliant in her role as the haunted woman living in the past, recreating moments and conversations, asking for forgiveness. Her performance is wild and mesmerising, and gives her the opportunity to demonstrate her enviable skill in both dance and song. Greig Cooke, too, displays his talent in a raw and, at times, breath-stopping performance, as he embodies the woman’s lost lover. The powerful feelings of both strong trust and suspicion between the two lovers are expressed mainly through dance, and both Grove and Cooke push themselves to their limits as a couple who react to each other like magnets, at the same time pushing and pulling. They hold each other over the brink of destruction, and catch each other in the last moments. If this sounds abstract – well, it is, but it feels truthful and heartfelt.
The third performer slips into the double role of an omniscient counsellor on the side line of the action, and musician. Scott Smith enhances the performance with guitar, clarinet, thumb harp and various electronic instruments, and brings the woman back to reality with his sarcastic and probing comments. Lighting designer Beky Stoddart deserves a round of applause for wrapping the performers in an ethereal, misty light that highlights their actions beautifully, and the Soho Theatre’s intimate space is ideal for this performance.
Is it a dream? Are these memories, or fears from the past? Is it fantasy, or reality? As an audience, we cannot be sure. While I could relate strongly to some elements, such as the complex human relationship between the woman and man, other, more humorous elements left me in the dark and seemed strange and abstract for the sake of being weird. In these instances, a stronger emphasis on some kind of narrative structure might have made the performance more powerful and draw it together more succinctly. This way, I felt a bit lost and confused, and while I greatly enjoyed some of the dancers’ duets and solos, other parts were too drawn out and abstract for my taste.
That said, the harmony in which music, dance and the spoken word are combined, and the powerful performances in a beautiful space, make Running on Empty a play well worth seeing. Anyone with an interest in expressive dance should not miss it.
Author: Brad Birch
Director: Jo McInnes
Box Office: 0207 478 0100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/running-on-empty/
Booking Until: 16th February 2014