KNEEHIGH at the RSC.
Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 2h 25m, one interval. At Courtyard Stratford till 10 January then touring till 28 March.
Review: Rod Dungate, 22 December, Courtyard.
Interesting, but not interesting enough.
In developing this Don Juan story Emma Rice and her company have made a bold decision. This Don – Don John – is not a star; he’s not a charismatic, overtly sexy being that women swoon over. He’s handsome but rather bland – almost a blank canvas on which the women project their desires. They then fall victim to him as he casually uses them to satisfy his own desires; however the Don appears to have as casual a relationship with his own motivations as he does with the women he uses.
All this is interesting and absorbing. But there’s an inherent danger – that the story loses focus. Rice piles in image after image, layer upon layer; second by second it’s entertaining but it never goes anywhere. We’re left ticking off the images and their associated baggage as a kind of theatrical ‘I spy.’
Rice selects for her setting the final days of Callaghan’s government and the rise of Thatcherism. This is a rich mine to investigate as told through the story – but it never becomes much more than a handy backdrop.
Lots of lighting effects, explosions and on-stage music move the show along. Witty use of opera further opens up the story and also makes us smile. While this may keep us awake, it’s not enough to satisfy us.
And the acting is, for the most part, not strong – frequently as generalised as Rice’s manner of telling this story. If you want to have high-emotion speeches – kind of opera without the music – you need cracking acting. Too often these moments feel over-written and clichéd. The company enjoys itself but the narrative doesn’t come across.
Kneehigh, on the evidence of this show, has either lost its way, over-reached itself, or is spreading itself too thinly.
Director and Adaptor: Emma Rice.
Words and Poems: Anna Murphy.
Composer and Musical Director: Stu Barker.
Designer: Vicki Mortimer.
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound Designer: Simon Baker.
Producer: Paul Crewes.
Performers: Stu Barker, Nina Dogg Filippusdottir, Carl Grose, Craig Johnson, Patrycja Kujawska, Dominic Lawton, Dave Mynne, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, Ian Ross, Mike Shepherd, Ale Vann, Mary Woodvine.
Cscape Dance Compan: Emily Dobson, Polly Motley, Helen Tiplady, Sally Williams.
27 – 31 Jan 2009, Northern Stage, Newcastle; 3 – 7 Feb, Hall for Cornwall, Truro; 10 – 14 Feb, Theatre Royal, Plymouth; 17 – 21 Feb, The Rep, Birmingham; 24 – 28 Feb, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry; 2 – 7 March, The Lowry, Salford Quays; 10 – 14 March, Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol; 17 – 28 March West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.