Unbridled pleasure at the DanceHouse
World Premiere: Pleasure’s Progress, Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich, June 18
Hurrah for Dance East for their remarkable coup in capturing the world premiere of a new production from the Royal Opera House.
Will Tuckett’s Pleasure’s Progress, inspired by the works of 18th Century Brit artist William Hogarth, has been billed as a opera/ballet for the Skins generation, and his brief was to provide something that might make help make lyric theatre more accessible to teens, but this is not just any old piece of in-yer-face theatre for “yoof” – it is a inspired work of total theatre – boisterous, bawdy and bedazzling.
Hogarth’s etchings are fascinating and often gruesome depictions of life in early 18th Century London, especially its sordid underbelly. With a strong moralistic overtone they satirise the wages of sin and gin. Parallels between then and now are shocking – binge drinking was a huge social problem, and sexual transmitted diseases were epidemic. Then, offenders were placed in the stocks or confined to the horrors of Bedlam – now we put adverts about Chlamydia testing on the back of buses, but there’s no avoiding the timeless quality of the artist’s work.
Tuckett deftly creates a journey through Hogarth’s most famous pieces, The Harlot’s Progress, Marriage a la Mode, The Rake’s Progress and Gin Lane, by putting the artist himself on stage and having him direct a group of disturbed Bedlam inmates in re-enactments of his creations. There’s a cast of only seven singers and dancers, all excellent actors, but Tuckett’s brisk, bustling choreography gives the effect of a stage teeming with London’s lowlife.
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Paul Englishby’s music is an appealing mix of English ballad styles and Handelian flourishes, and Alasdair Middleton’s witty libretto is a hoot – hilarity and depravity jostling for clever rhymes. The performers Matthew Hart, Laura Caldow, Clemmie Sveaas, Nuno Silva, Anna Dennis, Matthew Sharp and Tom Solomon are a supremely talented ensemble, with Solomon a finely etched Hogarth, switching effortlessly from light baritone to ringing countertenor and Dennis a beautifully lyrical soprano as Moll the harlot. Tuckett has also created a deeply moving solo for Laura Caldow as the doomed gin-addicted young mother, danced on pointe.
There are echoes of Marat/Sade and The Threepenny Opera, but, for all its Bedlam raggedness, this terrific show is no rag-bag of clashing disciplines. It’s a marriage of a la mode of theatre, opera and dance.
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The Skins generation weren’t much in evidence on the opening night, but, at the risk of sounding like a dad trying to be trendy, I’d sum it up as wicked.