The Cholmondeleys & The Featherstonehaughs with The Victims of Death, Smithereens

Review in Issue 11-4 | Winter 1999

Shining bright lights in the eyes of your audience may seem like a good idea on paper. In reality, of course, it gives them a migraine. Similarly, creating a theatrical work structured from eighty-odd very short sections of no more than a couple of minutes is a very interesting challenge for a director to set herself. Interesting for the director but, understandably perhaps, the joke wears pretty thin for the audience after the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately, Lea Anderson’s choreography is mostly too pedestrian to really shine through the limitations of the structure she has chosen.

Smithereens is loosely based on Weimar cabaret but there is none of Marlene Dietrich’s allure and decadence here as the dancers dash quickly in and out of a seemingly endless parade of Sandy Powell’s stunning costumes. The music is a wonderfully hypnotic mixture of looped samples of old gramophone records overlaid with even more rhythmic static and live piano, accordion and sax from The Victims of Death. The dancers put in sterling work, but despite their obvious technical prowess they seem lacklustre and distant. They only really come to life once or twice for a sinewy dance in shining grey dresses or the energetic vigour of all the men jumping together in black tie and tails. There are also several moments of wit, most notably involving a repeated sequence on stilts.

Despite the quality work of musicians, dancers and designer, the piece is ultimately let down by its director. Anderson’s work relies on image alone for its impact. There is no intellectual or emotional structure to underpin the piece. There is also not the great physical spectacle of traditional dance. This means that there’s not enough to occupy the audience, especially as the visual images are often too weak and watery to drag the audience out of their hypnotic stupor.

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-4
p. 23