Matthew Bourne, Play Without Words

Review in Issue 16-1 | Spring 2004

This is exactly what is says on the box – a play which communicates without spoken utterance. But it’s certainly not mime, and, although tightly choreographed and set to music, neither is it simply dance. Set in London’s swinging sixties, and inspired by films of the period (specifically The Servant), Matthew Bourne’s devised play is also inspired by acting workshops he conducted at the NT Studio, and influenced by the freestyle staging of companies like Complicite.

The dancers work to beats, just like screen actors, hitting expressions on designated counts whilst retaining the naturalness of characters caught in real-life situations. And there’s a story – of love and lust above and below stairs.

Several actors play one character, dressed exactly the same, moving individually, yet telling the same story – slight variations in moves and expressions creating a collage effect without damaging the narrative. In a single minute, all can be doing something different, yet they tell the same story. The music, by Terry Davies, was developed alongside the movement. It’s jazz with just a touch of sleaze, at times standing in for words or thoughts. And the set, with its echoes of seedy backstreets and film noir, and its central double staircase (plain for servants, decorated for master) speaks volumes too.

Having worked on reinterpreting familiar stories, Bourne now feels the next step is to develop a work from scratch. I can’t wait for that.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jan 2004

This article in the magazine

Issue 16-1
p. 27