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Can We Talk About This, Lyttelton


Can We Talk About This? -- a broadside by Lloyd Newson and his dance company DV8 against the allegedly soft and supine liberal propritation of Islamic fundamentalism and its threat to (amongst other things) free speech -- should be subtitled Can We Dance About This?

I'm afraid that, after watching this determinedly provocative, technically fascinating, expertly executed and crudely bludgeoning show, I was left with these answers.  To the first question: no, because the piece does not want to start a dialogue.  Set in a generic community centre-cum-gym and moving chronologically from the case of Ray Honeyford, the hounded Bradford head teacher who, in 1984, sparked a furious controversy with an article when he published an article questioning multiculturalism, the evening is a tendentiously constructed tract posing as a dance-enhanced polemic. 

To the second question: the answer would be: not if you want clarity of argument as opposed to a kind of running terpischorean commentary that compounds the built-in bias.  The dancing is sometimes a joy to watch as the populous cast bob about the stage in what looks like a cross between an impersonation of a metronome and a prize exhibit from one of the Ministry of Silly Walks.  Or when, at some absurdly optimistic bit of liberal planning, they nound around jumping  for fey joy like a multitude of ("hello sky! hello sea") Fotherington-Thomases.  But when it's not looking abitrary, there's far too much glaring manipulativeness. It's true that her televised dispute with Christopher Hitchens about Salman Rushdie's knighthood was not Shirley Williams's finest hour.  All the same, in its invidious staging here, William seems to taking part in a variant of Spitting Image,while Hitchens, who does some expressive angular things with a symbolic book, is granted the dignity of being in a modern dance.

There are fantastically difficult and important issues at stake here.  They are dealt with in an undeniably powerful but also infuriatingly facile manner.  By chance, the night before, I had seen the recent Iranian movie, A SEPARATION, an instant classic of the excruciating and intractable tangles you get into when devout and secular Muslims clash over an incident that flushes all their prejudices to the fore.  There were moments as I watched the DV8 piece, which feels a lot longer than its eighty minutes, when I fancied that this is what hell would be like: forced to be an eternal witness of a show that disqualifies itself as an adequate examination of considerations you ache to see clarified.  There is a protest at one point by the most glaring "plant" you have ever encountered in a theatre.  Enough said.

To 28 March 2012 , 020 7452 3000; boxoffice@nationaltheatre.org,uk