The latest piece from internationally renowned physical theatre company DV8 has just opened at the National Theatre in London, following a premier earlier in the year at the Vienna International Dance Festival. The company is almost 30 years old, yet the work they continue to produce is still be considered cutting edge. To define them precisely in terms of genre is a difficult – they work in a mixture of dance and physical theatre as well as verbatim theatre, and usually all done with a dark sense of humour. Of course over time their ‘style’ has evolved and of late has become much more speech driven. Lloyd Newson, the co-founder and leader of the company said in a recent interview:
I could never understand the discrepancy of dancers yakking away in the wings, then pretending to be mute the minute they stepped out on stage,” Newson says. “A friend and former colleague of mine, Nigel Charnock, once said: ‘Whenever I’m dancing, inside my head, I’m talking to myself the whole time’.”
The new work, eponymously entitled John, is again a verbatim piece, created using interviews conducted by Newson with more than 50 men asking them frank questions about love and sex. To quote their publicity:
One of those men was John. What emerged was a story that is both extraordinary and touching. Years of crime, drug use and struggling to survive lead John on a search where his life converges with others in an unexpected place, unknown by most. JOHN authentically depicts real-life stories, where movement and spoken word combine to create an intense, moving and poignant theatrical experience.
Newson has given two interviews to coincide with the opening of the show in London. Firstly to The Independent and Hugn Montgomery, DV8: Three decades of the provocative dance-theatre company where he speaks about the aesthetic of the company’s work in a typical refreshing forthright manner:
This is a man who has talked of dance as “the Prozac of the artforms”, for what he sees as its vacuous, anaesthetising beauty; he sums up his own approach as “if people don’t understand what’s being said physically, I’m not interested”
The second, for The Guardian with Alfred Hickling, Death, drugs and survival: DV8 Physical Theatre tells the story of John, gives more of an insight to the new work.
Yesterday, the BBC Front Row programme interviewed Newson about the creative process behind the work:
Too early for the english language reviews to be out, but Twitter has been alive with fulsome praise:
John is will be on a national tour when done in London, but is sure to be heading off across the globe soon. I do hope so, anyway.
Since writing this post, the reviews are in for John. Almost without exception, they are praiseworthy and talk fulsomely about Newson’s work. The London Evening Standard sums up the piece thus:
John is a powerful and absorbing piece full of innovative visual touches but there’s a question over the bisected nature of the narrative and the sudden switch of tone, the new cast of characters, the move into (scatological) comedy.
Yet it works because there are themes that thread all the way through: the search for something, be it escape, obliteration, sensation, intimacy or love — at whatever cost
Obviously confronting in many ways, John has clearly made an impact. There is one review however, that had me whooping with laughter. Written by Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail, a right-wing, ‘hang ’em high’ and ‘send the immigrants home’ rag published in the UK, screamed with the fabulous headline A National DISGRACE: Sleazy. Amoral. And paid for by you! I think Letts might be missing the point, don’t you?