DEAD ON HER FEET
by Ron Hutchinson.
The North Wall South Parade OX2 7JN To 15 September.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01865 319450.
then Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL 2 October-3 November.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 September.
Energetic pace in a depressingly topical story.
This play opened in Oxford the night of the Olympic/Paralympic final Parade, with its tributes to volunteers. But what about ‘volunteers’ who are really being forced into unpaid work to keep state benefits? Where do the profits from their labour go?
Connections are clear between modern ‘austerity’ and early-30s America, where Ron Hutchinson’s play is set, and where the social dance craze soured into competitions, with couples desperately dancing on (10 minutes’ rest every 2 hours) over weeks to be last man and woman standing and escape the financial mire with a large cash prize.
For marathon organiser Mel Carney, they’re a repeated win. Especially when he can avoid giving prizes, keeping the dollars he takes from audiences coming to watch the slogging couples. After all, he’s the entrepreneur, organising things, hotting-up a decayed ballroom with a bit of glitz and working toilets, paying-off local officials and providing a show-biz veneer.
All he fears is the solidarity of the downtrodden; so he denounces Communism, dividing people through competition and feeding individual dreams. Jos Vantyler’s Carney acquires a red bowtie and dress-suit during the show, becoming increasingly sinister in his leering way, the front for quiet curtness.
His antithesis is his disenchanted enforcer McDade, a latter-day Bosola. He knows the work’s rotten, but a sense of integrity and need to eat tie him to the job that feeds him “three squares” daily. (McDade turns to writing, aligning him with Horace McCoy, writer of the 1935 dance-marathon novella The Shoot Horses Don’t They?).
Hutchinson’s play is a metaphor for present times, and the final section effectively stops the action to continue the debate: a lot of opinions get expressed in the last half-hour. Otherwise, Barry Kyle’s production keeps moving, clarifying the three distinct couples: local graduate without a job and wife, a couple who meet at the rail-station and another that form in the hall.
One person changes sides as the rest dance to destruction in an increasingly vicious circle they can’t escape, while the man in charge rakes up the profits by varying the rules, in a game they cannot win.
Mel Carney: Jos Vantyler.
McDade: Ben Whybrow.
Bonnie: Kelly Gibson.
Wally: Sam Trueman.
Rita: Victoria Fischer.
Myron: Rowan Schlosberg.
Velma: Sandra Reid.
Jake: Lloyd Thomas.
Director: Barry Kyle.
Designer: Alex Berry.
Lighting: Eric Voecks.
Sound: Richard Sprecker.
Choreographer: Stephanie Roberts.
Costume: Genevieve Beller.