DANCE / Awful by design

THERE IS a clever conceit in The Kosh's Endangered Species that places it beyond censure. It is that the performers can get away with being not very good if they are not meant to be very good. Johnny Hutch was part of a struggling music hall double act during the Thirties and Forties, and it is his life that inspired the dance-drama group's 10th anniversary tour. Now 70, he wrote the story and directed Sian Williams as The Woman and Mark Hopkins as The Man, lending a ring of authenticity.

The result is that the tap dancing is not good but is not meant to be. Ditto the ventriloquist act and some of the singing. An acrobatics sequence (in Esther Williams bathing caps with sequins) contains overambitious contortions but just about comes off. These lapses are all very well and go a long way to achieving artistic intent, but they give the show the air of a night out with the local secondary school's performing arts club. But once it dawns that Mark Hopkins's shoe is meant to come flying off and that his braces are meant to sweep the floor, you can let go of that sinking feeling.

Amazingly, the unfolding chaos is well controlled throughout the 80-minute cabaret. With at least five full costume changes on stage, and sound cues operated by the performers, the scope for unintentional goings wrong is enormous. But the only things that go wrong are intended to. The sketches are linked by the most tiresome babble from the deluded ('I'm the tops') Hopkins about how 'from now on we are celebrities because we are doing something new. They've never seen such an incredible show'. And on and on. If that is what he thinks is an incredible show, no wonder the only endangered species is his audience.

Do not be put off by the buffoonery. Endangered Species is more slick than it appears. Williams plays to her acting and dancing strengths, Hopkins to his acting and singing. There is plenty going on, much of it funny, and a sub-plot that develops to a riveting climax. The Woman hints that she is in love with the Man, but he is so self-absorbed he fails to notice. In the end, she, in Florence Nightingale outfit, bandages him in bunting as he marches on the spot, singing loudly, until he is unwittingly anchored to the ground. She storms off stage, leaving him looking ridiculous as a human maypole. Thus she achieves her humiliation of him on stage at least.

The ending is unexpected because throughout it is the Woman who gets the lower hand. As a tart in fishnet stockings (which she puts on with breathtaking expertise) in the French underworld of small-time criminals, she seems wearily resigned to bringing the Man his ashtray and shoes and then getting down to the rather vulgar business of sex on anyone's terms but her own.

I saw the show at The Grand in Clapham, South London, a yawning cavern of a venue used mainly by the likes of Genesis to traipse about in with laser lights. The audience sat at tables, like a real cabaret, but a stubborn gulf replaced any intimacy the arrangement was meant to engender. I hope for The Kosh's sake their future venues will more enhance their act.

The Kosh's last show, Dinner Dance, was slated as a load of pretentious rubbish. This time there are sound ideas and no pretensions, so perhaps they have been stung into a venture that is deserving of praise for trying hard.

The Kosh play the Borders Dance Festival tonight, The Junction, Cambridge (0223 412600) on Wed and Thurs, and other venues around the country to 13 Dec.

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