Brighton Festival 2017
Plan B for Utopia is part of Joan Clevillé Dance’s 2017 tour. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 and has toured extensively around the UK since then. Using a mixture of dance, physical and spoken theatre, it explores the role that creativity and imagination play as a catalyst for change, the impact of our personal decisions on others and the environment around us, and what happens when things don’t go according to plan. It is performed by Solène Weinachter and John Kendall.
As the audience files into the theatre, the actors are already on stage, constructing something with wooden building blocks on top of the garment hanging carrier that serves as the pair’s box of props throughout the performance. They invite members of the audience to come up and participate, and, just like that, before the ‘real’ performance has even started, they have drawn us into their story. For the next hour, we’re in this together.
Kendall and Weinachter start the performance with a series of heart trembling questions to us all, beginning with “Why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the world changing for the better?” And we’re there with them, tumbling towards Weinachter’s agonising final question: “How do we start?” It’s the question that gets us every time, isn’t it? But Kendall’s answer: “With some dancing!”, creates an instant lift in the energy and we can go on, stepping into the disco lights with them.
And so the show lurches deftly onwards, using a series of exquisitely choreographed and scripted cameos that melt into each other to highlight the ways in which we both create and undermine our dreams, pretend everything’s fabulous when, really, it’s not, and constantly connect and disconnect with each other.
With its low tech props, starkly minimal staging, and simple shifts in score and lighting, Clevillé has constructed a piece that teeters between being hilarious, heart breaking, and intensely hopeful. Swift changes in tempo mean that it’s also very disorientating: we’re constantly finding ourselves not where we thought we were a few seconds ago. At one hour long, the performance is also perfectly timed – just long enough to grab our attention and take us to the heart of the questions it’s exploring, but not long enough for us to get complacent and disengaged.
Both Weinachter and Kendall are highly skilled performers, and their chemistry and agility as performers are breathtaking. Their last dance is particularly exquisite.
It is Weinachter who stands out with her incredible physical and vocal range, amply showcased by the larger than life, madcap role she plays. She moves seamlessly from dancer to singer to clown and then somewhere else, overacting, overplaying, oversinging. It’s electrifying.
I’d love to have seen more of Kendall’s range, but the part he plays is steadier, more forlorn, less showy than Weinachter’s, and I’ll have to wait for another time.
I loved this show and recommend it highly. It went straight to the heart of the issues around our hopes and fears and personal and collective responsibility to take action that are being thrust right in front of us in post-Brexit UK today. And it did so in a way that captured the complexity and tenderness of being hopelessly and gloriously human.