THEATRE: The Dancing Master; BAC, London
Monday 11 November 1996
The one thing you can't accuse her of is lack of ambition. In the course of a bewildering two-and-a-quarter hours, though, one or two other accusations spring to mind.
Lawson's play is set in an exclusive hotel in the Swiss alps but Anita Brookner's lawyers needn't rush down to Battersea to check for possible plagiarism of Hotel du Lac. With the dancing master seen measuring the micturition time of women using the cubicles in the ladies' cloakroom, a refined expression of gentility it ain't. It's more like the hitherto undiscovered first draft of Kafka's rewrite of Fawlty Towers after too much Mogadon.
When not busy with his stopwatch or supposedly winning all hearts with his nimble footwork, the terpsichorean title character is having a long- distance affair with an opera singer by cassette-tape letters and playing Herod in the (mercifully off-stage) Christmas entertainment. Meantime, the mouthy chambermaids squabble and the guests come and go, talking of virtually everything except Michelangelo.
If your dramatic aspirations run to balancing hermetically sealed lives with wider political issues such as the fear engendered by hierarchy or the horrors of a half-sister left behind to be raped in a war-zone women's camp, you had better be in complete command of an iron-clad structure. Likewise, if your writing aims for a European style mix of absurdity and heightened naturalism, you had better be the next Botho Strauss. Lawson, I'm afraid, is neither. Hardly any of the 12 characters on stage are rooted in any kind of reality, which means that no matter how comic or intense their various crises - feeling unloved, helpless or trapped - we simply don't care.
Directing her own script, Lawson does nothing to alleviate the textual problems. Sorkina Tate has danced in Grand Hotel and with Lindsay Kemp which lends her scene with the dancing master (the hard-working but ill- at-ease Patrick Drury) a genuine physicality that is badly missing elsewhere, but what is she supposed to do with the line "You dance like a man but I suspect you make love like a woman"? Sara Hadland goes for broke as Anuena, the chambermaid with attitude, but the imperious Margaret Robertson wins the acting prize hands down. She wisely eschews the sentimentality wobbling about the edges of her tender scenes with the dancing master, her throaty, throwaway delivery ironically pulling you in and making you believe in the hurt and resignation she invests in her character.
The play is shot through with music ranging from La boheme to Chopin preludes via Orlofsky's aria from Die Fledermaus, "Chacun a son gout". Not, I'm afraid to mine. "With so much talent around," a member of the audience asked me on the way out, "why did they put this on?" Over to you, Battersea
To 24 Nov. Booking: 0171-223 2223.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
Poldark, review: Revolution is in the air as women fling mud in the eyes of the silly chaps
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Avengers: Age of Ultron: 'After credits' scene leaks online
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate