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Drop Dead Gorgeous, Purcell Rooms, London

By Donald Hutera

The Times, 27 February 2002

Charlotte Vincent and members of her Sheffield-based Vincent Dance Theatre devised Drop Dead Gorgeous last summer, with Poland’s Dada von Bzudlow Theatre. The show, touring the UK until March 11, is a study of civilian apocalypse in a state of wartime emergency.

Richard Lowdon’s set, lit by Jim Harrison, is striking. A wooden wall, marked by dried blood, stands in a small sea of green slate. Six performers in Forties dress sporadically rush on and off. Some clamber over the wall. All kick to the side in clattering unison, then the collapse on to the rubble. When a jolly polka begins to play, the shell-shocked tome switches to convulsive hilarity. Piggy-backs, shrieks and slap and tickle ensue. It’s end-of-pier hysteria as a desperate retreat from end-of-world anxieties.

Leaning on the wall, the sweaty women lift their skirts and expose their backsides. The first time might be comic. But as they continue to adopt the exaggerated pose of bored sex workers, the link between pornography and war is laid bare. The audience chokes on its own laughter.

In her programme note Vincent astutely places Gorgeous in a post-September 11 context. “Our efforts to comment on the subject seemed puny, dangerous; Tasteless, even.” Without doubting the integrity of her intentions, I must agree. The piece, however topical, seems flashy, noisy and emotionally spurious. I hated it, not because it was so uncomfortably raw and real but rather due to an eventual glut of grim ironies and bogus theatrical pretensions.

The performers throw themselves into their actions, including spots of weighty, contemporary folk dance. Yet few moments felt genuine. Leszek Bzdyl repeatedly feigns being shot to death, like a child who either doesn’t know any better or has seen too much horror. The point – desensitisation to terror – is clear. Then comes an avalanche of false demises, the screaming cast falling into death thrones. By the time they advance on us, bloody handed and asking to be shot, I was ready to comply. A partial standing ovation and shouts of bravo indicated that the show had touched – rather than got on – others’ nerves.