Just For Show, National Theatre, Lyttelton, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"To be able to live, one needs illusions," is the slightly dumb epigraph of physical theatre group DV8's latest production, a technically lavish and stunningly well-performed exercise in the psychotherapy of lies, the superficiality of how we look, and the dark hunger for sex.

Conceived and directed by Lloyd Newson, Just for Show is both a flashy cabaret performed in front of a red ruched theatre curtain and a shadowy erotic ballet within, where naked boys scuttle across the stage like scarabs, a blonde girl is thrown mercilessly, and gracefully, around, and a young boy confronts his own carnal instincts.

DV8 have long existed on the border of dance and drama, mostly with a savage gay twist, and it seemed possible that a new form of theatre, combining Pina Bausch-type angst and incisive Royal Court-style social commentary, might be the result. But this latest performance exposes the emotional and narrative limitations of the hybrid.

The most effective theatrical sections involve the extraordinarily lissom Tanja Liedtke, who is wheeled on in a skimpy glitter gown to greet fellow "fashionistas" in the audience with the injunction, "Don't underestimate the importance of looking good". In her case, too right. She then reels off a rather clumsy speech about Mr Right and being right on the right as of right, before folding her limbs into a yoga contortion while dispensing tips on inner welfare.

This is hilarious, but unrelated to the writhings of sexual encounters on the inner stage, where a pulsating disco soundtrack accompanies the dancers. Jack Thompson's lighting and Niall Black's video design create a spookily hypnotic world of bleached images, frozen-frame tableaux and violent despair in a huge bed of pink roses.

Technically, the show is wondrous, and you can see why it recently won the special prize at the Belgrade International Festival of Theatre. It ticks so many boxes of radical priorities of staging and content that you could be forgiven for just going with the flow.

There are some brilliant, sexy solo turns from Paul White as an acrobatic Elvis clone, Matthew Morris as an HIV-positive cruiser and Kylie Walters as the girl in the red dress. And the soundtrack is tremendous. But the dramatic ambitions of the piece, as opposed to its engaging theatricality, seem banal, and I ended up wanting much more dance and far less drama.