Dance / Snappy suits are old hat

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The Independent Culture
IN THE beginning was the name - the Featherstonehaughs. Once you knew how to pronounce it you were part of the clan - a clever piece of marketing. Then there was the line-up: a bunch of good-time guys, cheerful, streetwise, and not a pair of tights in sight. The mode was informal and witty, poking fun at the worn conventions of male posturing on stage. The "Fanshaws" were smart, and in bringing Rayban culture to dance, they brought dance to the Rayban wearers. Their appearance on The South Bank Show won the largest-ever TV audience for dance. But seven years on, Mafia-style shades and snappy suits are looking jaded, and so, sorry to say, are the Fans. Their '95 tour ended its run at Sadler's Wells this week in what should have been a blaze of glory. Instead it went out like a light.

The Featherstonehaughs Go Las Vegas. Why? When we think of that city, we think tacky glamour, and tacky glamour is, well, just tacky. It has no resonance, no relevance, no theatrical mileage beyond mimicry. The choreographer Lea Anderson (creator of all the Fans' shows) tries to justify her theme by suggesting that Las Vegas is a metaphor for television, and by implication, for the shallow quick-fix of modern living. The city of sin dresses up its interiors as Swiss chalets, Victorian ale-houses, the Taj Mahal; TV takes us places, too. It's a weak premise for a show, and nearly everything that followed lacked point.

The first number had pairs of Fans in natty checked suits and Sixties quiffs larking about with variety gestures and acrobatics that were meant to be comical in their awfulness. In the acute absence of laughter, one began to wonder whether the wobbles and grimaces weren't for real. And uncertainty, as all good showpeople know, is comedy's kiss of death.

A flicker of humour survived to illuminate a telling sequence based on the body language of chat shows. Two shiny pink sofas set the stage for the host and five interviewees who, with impressive co-ordination, crossed and uncrossed their legs, tweaked their hair, nodded and waggled their jaws as if someone had accidentally leant on fast-forward. A slower sequence on a swivel stool worked towards the same effect - making physical theatre from the gestural tics of the kind of performance that has become a commonplace of living-rooms.

At the door the audience had been issued with pencil-torches. We were to wait for a signal from the stage, hold them at eye-level, point and switch on. Something amazing would happen. Well, it didn't. My torch didn't even work. So the Fans were left looking like wallies and we were left feeling like wallies. The boys need a new gimmick, and they need one quick.