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Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Riley Theatre, Leeds

By Stephanie Ferguson

The Guardian, 5 November 2001

As clouds of dust rise, they stagger, slide and crash on the shards of rubble that once was their city… Charlotte Vincent and her company of five live and die amid the horror of war in this arresting co-production with the Dada Von Bzudlow Theatre of Gdansk.

Originally inspired by the fortitude of the Polish people in the face of conflict, Vincent had the piece half-made when she was overtaken by the events of September 11. As the performers were exploring the demolition of man and staging their own multiple deaths, fate stepped in and made their work, she thought, seem puny and tasteless.

Painful to watch and agonising to perform, this is a cri de Coeur and, whatever the conflict (Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Afghanistan), it shows the indomitable spirit of humans trying to overcome, whatever the odds.

A wall of blood-stained planks rises from the treacherous litter tray of shattered masonry. Enter the dancers through the auditorium dodging sniper fire. They line up beside the wall shaking and fearful, then perform and old chorus line of stomping and angry sideways kicking, as if attacking the warmongers.

This gives way to a jokey romp to oompah music, with much whooping and yelling. They flirt and play and the women hitch up their skirts and bare their buttocks. Action centres around, on and over the wall, behind which there’s something very nasty. Images are socked home like cruise missiles, the performers writhing, riddles with bullets, screaming and dying in countless ways. At one point, Polish dancer Leszek Bzydyl appears to be shot at an execution stake. In another TC Howard gags herself with rope and winds the rest round her body, eventually hanging inert. It’s all grim stuff, but that’s war.

Perhaps too long and preaching to the converted, Drop Dead Gorgeous is performed with great commitment and is still a powerful plea for peace.