Motor Show, Black Rock, Kemp Town, Brighton

This car ballet is not the comfiest of rides

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The Independent Culture

Superstore access roads are built, you imagine, with one function in mind, but the slip road to Asda at Brighton Marina does surprisingly well as a backdrop to theatre. Curving up and away on concrete stilts, it supplies a steady cavalcade of headlamps. Beneath are garlands of graffiti, above it gulls idle, stars come out.

Some distance away sit banks of people in headphones, waiting for something to happen. The anticipation is intense, not least because the first night of Motor Show – due to tour this summer courtesy of Without Walls, a consortium of eight UK arts festivals – was cancelled due to the weather. The second night also eluded some (your critic among them), sent erroneously by GPS to a caravan site inland, giving a whole new meaning to the term site-specific. But, hey, third time lucky: it's an umbrella-less night and the grandstand is full.

Motor Show, co-devised by the choreographer Frauke Requardt and theatre director David Rosenberg, is a follow-up to 2010's Electric Hotel, in which a similar outdoor audience witnessed sinister goings-on in a glass-walled building, tensions heightened by a score transmitted through headphones. Daringly, Motor Show goes one further with a mobile spectacle. At points it threatens to turn into a car ballet.

There are no shiny showroom models here, though. You notice the first abandoned wreck only when its passenger door falls off, the event synchronising startlingly with the noise in your ear. Creaking security gates, the crunch of tyres on rutted gravel, footsteps, ringtones, muffled conversations, a blast of radio, all draw you in to create a sense of intimacy with what's happening in front of you, sometimes 200 metres distant. Good night vision is a must.

The opening sequence is rich with the promise of intrigue and dark comedy. Car No 1 rolls up, there's the psszt of a ring pull, twice, then satisfied slurps. Car No 2 rolls up, another two ring pulls. Then Car No 3, a different noise, then smashing glass as the empties are chucked, then a different slurp, of kissing. It's neat, smart, a good start.

There follows a series of events, some loosely connected, others not. A schoolgirl walks across the space to answer a call in a kiosk, then meets a man who takes her to a car. But any hopes of this heading in a detective-thriller direction are soon dashed. The motorised arrivals are increasingly random: a sultry rock singer in a plastic mac, a violent gang, a clumsy chorus line in pink feathers. The inevitable back-seat shenanigans get a dance set-piece with a trio of lovers wriggling in and out of car windows. There's also a man who loses his wits after cooking a sausage supper in his caravan.

The interplay of lighting and sound effects is beautifully done, as is the sultry rock score. But this fad for inconsequential narrative is a foolish trick to play upon an audience sat on uncomfortable seats on a chilly night. After a while, you simply disengage. Sit for an hour in a car park at night? Why would you?

Black Rock, Brighton (01273 709709) ends today; Norfolk & Norwich Festival (01603 766400) 19-23 May; Greenwich & Docklands Festival (020-8858 7755) 23-27 June; Stockton International Riverside Festival (01642 525199) 1-5 Aug.

Next week

Jenny Gilbert keeps a cool head for What Wild Ecstasy, Rambert's latest

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The undisputed king of dance theatre marks 25 years in the business with Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures, a programme of his sly, witty early hits such as Spitfire and Town and Country, at Poole Lighthouse (Tue & Wed), then Brighton Corn Exchange (Thur to Sat), and London's Sadlers Wells (21 to 26 May), with more UK venues to follow.

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