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Nothing dusty about Tangled Feet's latest production

Review by Hannah Knowles

TANGLED Feet describe themselves as ‘experimenters in physical theatre and theatrical performance’, and physical is certainly the operative word for this athletic and vibrant company’s work.

The eight-strong group only formed in 2003, but the actors work together with an understanding and sympathy for each others’ movement and speech that suggest a much longer relationship.

Although physical theatre is not a recent innovation, Tangled Feet breathe new life into the form with their enthusiasm, unquestionable talent, and lack of pretension.

Mostly recently, the company produced Catching Dust, which played to packed audiences at The Pleasance and The White Bear theatres.

Dust is the last thing these actors are likely to catch, as they dance, leap and fight their way through this devised piece.

The concept behind the play is that someone has sat where we are sitting, and will take our place there once we leave.

This becomes a wider metaphor for personal relationships, as the characters meet, love, and lose, and then begin the same pattern with different partners.

The script is neither exceptionally insightful nor complex, but it is not intended to be. It is the very simplicity of the characters’ dialogue that is key to Catching Dust.

The same brief and surface-level communication that fuels the beginning of each couples’ relationship is the same thing that subsequently destroys them.

Accompanying the dialogue, are intricate and often violently choreographed moves, which express, with searing honesty, the messy, complicated reality of the relationships depicted.

In arguably the most powerful scene, Alyson demands that Leon open a letter that has fallen through their letterbox, believing that its contents are the reason for his recent, bizarre behaviour.

His refusal and her increasingly unhinged responses to this are expressed in minimal verbal terms, which makes gripping enough viewing without the incredible dance-fight that accompanies it.

Add that, and the scene is electrifying. Rarely do we get to see such ferociously athletic, graceful, and resonant performances in British theatre.

The phrase ‘catching dust’, refers to the belief, of one of the characters, that he has an allergy to dust, and that as long as he can catch the dust before it reaches him, he will be alright.

However, none of the characters, it seems, can catch the proverbial dust before it reaches their relationships.

Instead, they seemingly encourage it, as they become increasingly desperate, jealous and violent towards each other.

The production’s attitude towards relationships is distinctly bleak, with all three couples’ affairs ending with at least one of the lovers in each partnership suffering from some form of mental illness.

Though this is, perhaps, a rather unnecessarily pessimistic outlook on sexual relationships, Tangled Feet should be applauded for approaching an issue as contentious as mental illness in the same breath as the petty jealousies of women fighting over a man.

Too often in theatre, mental health problems are either treated with kid gloves or as a vehicle for shock, but here the company has the courage to present it as it is; a daily reality, as banal, awkward and frustrating to deal with as friends fighting over a shared lust object.

Despite its many virtues, the production is not without its flaws.

The characters’ repetition of phrases, while symbolically significant of the repeated patterns we fall into in relationships, and here often used to good comic effect, does become tired.

Perhaps this is the danger of devised work as opposed to scripted performances.

This aside, it is hard to fault a group which is so happy to take risks in the name of theatre, and does so with such success.

It seems strange to watch a play with such a negative outlook on human relationships and to come away feeling so upbeat, but this is nothing to do with the credibility of the actors’ performances.

It is, simply, that despite the often disturbing questions the production raises about life, it is impossible to come away from this play without feeling inspired by the talent and creative force of the company behind it.

Tangled Feet’s next production will premiere in June at The Pleasance, and Catching Dust travels to Edinburgh in the late Summer.

The latter has shown the company to be one of the most exciting and innovative around.

It will be interesting to see whether they can build on this potential over the coming years without losing their incredible energy and enthusiasm.

Hopefully, it will be a journey that many will join me in following.

Catching Dust. Directed by Nathan Curry; Design adapted by Leon Smith, Abi Wadham; Costume: Imogen Loveday; Technical Support: Luke Gledsdale and Tom White.
WITH: Jonathan Ellicott; Lisa Benson; Leon Smith; Mario Christofides; Emily Horn; Alex Ramsden; Aly Cale

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