To be straight with you, National Theatre, London
Manon, Royal Opera House, London
Monday 03 November 2008
I don't want to say anything," a woman says, "but... it's nasty." Her upper body is calm, but her feet shuffle frantically under her. The words in Lloyd Newson's To Be Straight With You come from interviews with people telling their stories, talking about homosexuality, race and religion.
That's home ground for Newson, director of DV8 Physical Theatre. Since 1986, his shows have addressed identity in many forms. To Be Straight With You, which comes to London's National Theatre after a world and UK tour, concentrates on homophobic cultures.
Those are illustrated in a multimedia sequence created by Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler. The speaker is surrounded by the projected image of a globe. As he describes homophobia around the world, the globe spins and glows under his gesturing hands. Elsewhere, performers describe horrifying accounts of torture and suffering.
Much of Newson's material works better as documentary than as theatre. Facts are heaped high, but the whispering sound scores and overlaid voices make it harder to take in so much detail. Abuse scenes are naturalistically presented. It's when we get to the cases that aren't clear-cut that the show comes alive. A married Muslim describes his gay affair, whirling into Indian classical dance as he insists he can keep everything covered up.
Ankur Bahl has a magnificent monologue, twirling a skipping rope as he describes coming out to his father. The rope moves become more convoluted as the memories get more painful, but Bahl never falters. This is an irresistibly confident voice, vulnerable and funny.
Kenneth MacMillan's Manon is named for its heroine, but the major interest in this Royal Ballet performance was Edward Watson as the hero. The lyrical solos need flowing line and control. Those aren't qualities I'd associate with Watson, but he dances them with new smoothness and focus.
He wasn't helped by a late switch in Manons. Leanne Benjamin was replaced by Mara Galeazzi, an efficient but dull dancer. Around them, there are other weaknesses. Thiago Soares as Manon's brother Lescaut is good, but could get more out of this role. The drunk dances can be showstopping; here, most of the effect comes from Isabel McMeekan as his Mistress.
'To Be Straight With You' in rep to 15 November (020-7452 3000); 'Manon' in rep to 27 November (020-7304 4000)
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