First published in The Times, Wednesday April 26 2017
Mark Murphy, the choreographer and director of V-Tol Dance Company, is known for large-scale theatrical events, including the closing ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, as well as intimate, text-based plays, such as his two-hander Night Shift. His latest work, co-commissioned by the Macrobert and Sadler’s Wells, combines spectacle and storytelling to explore the chaotic inner workings of a woman in a medically-induced coma.
While the visual element is undeniably impressive, with Murphy and his team interweaving film, aerial choreography and stage effects to create some exhilarating set pieces, the narrative itself feels like an afterthought. Murphy unwisely plays his best hand too soon, front-loading the devised show with a montage of increasingly fragmented images and memories from within Ellen’s (Sarah Swire) shattered consciousness. The backstory, which tracks the relationship between musician Ellen and her husband (Scott Hoatson) and the devastating car crash that left him dead and her fighting for her life, would have to be utterly entrancing to live up to the opening 20 minutes.
Pic: Jane Hobson
Unfortunately, the central love story just isn’t interesting enough to justify such extravagant packaging. Even if you overlook the lack of chemistry between the leads, their conversations, scripted by Murphy, are the type of glib, banal exchanges that people in the real world never have. The non-linear approach here creates more confusion than illumination. At regular intervals, Swire breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. “Is anyone else confused?” It is a conceit that becomes more and more irritating as time wears on.
Pic: Jane Hobson
The multi-talented Swire, who is required to swirl around the stage in an aerial harness as well as sing at points and play guitar, is a strong and vivid presence in her own right. There is an increasing sense here, however, of multiple talents being spread far too thinly. Admittedly, Murphy’s film projections come together with Lizzie’s Powell’s lighting to create some memorable images, and the action at times moves seamlessly from stage to skies. Enjoyable as these flourishes are, they rather overwhelm the weak dramatic content.
Touring the UK to June 10. Outofthisworldtour.co.uk