Brighton Festival 2023
“The struggle is real.
It’s the beginning of the end.
But we’re still here.”
Dancer Jo Fong and clown George Orange have created a gorgeous piece of dance-based theatre. Using two chairs, an LCD display, and a game or two, they navigate the jumbled inevitability of middle age.
From the outset there is warmth and humour from them both, chatting and encouraging late-comers to sit in the front rows flanking the flat stage. There is a sense not so much of expectation but of mischief.
What follows is a mad blend of dance, physical theatre, improv and audience engagement. The music is an eclectic and mostly uplifting mix of anthem, disco and arias.
Scenes or questions are prompted by an LCD display: “What’s the point?”, “Will I be remembered?”, “Will it hurt?”, “Go as high as you can.”, “Remember what you did yesterday”, or simply, “Deal with it”.
There is an adorable silliness – Orange’s bonkers choreography to Hozier’s Take Me To Church, apparently a spoof of a piece by ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, starts to set the tone.
Fong’s running leaps – into Orange’s arms, audience (albeit in slo-mo) or onto a chair – are child-like and exultant, and seem all the more delicious because she isn’t 20 any more.
There is poignant disappointment too. Bodies that don’t do what they should; desire that cannot always be sated.
There is a lot of larking about. It is energetic (and exhausting!), absurd and tender. Ultimately it feels life-affirming and exhilarating. Throughout, fifty-somethings Fo and Orange seem to conspire to stick up a finger at ageing.
They are a perfect pairing. Fong’s ‘wtaf’ expression counterpointed by Orange’s suave uncertainty. Their duets are full of longing and frustration. Both are charming, and it is impossible not to root for them. They are also hilarious.
One scene entitled ‘Melt like butter’ displays a knowing sexiness, some disarming sensuousness with those chairs and Fong’s pants. The same chairs become wrestling partners as the display reads “The struggle is real”.
Otherwise ludicrous moves are given poignancy by a choice piece of music – Orange squeezing himself (!) through a chair to the sound of an aria.
The audience are seen and involved – as (R)age Against the Machine cry out “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” Fong and Orange defiantly eyeball each of us in turn, with a wry smile.
The audience are offered many looks, the odd hand held, a quiz, singing along to “I wanna know what love is“, and other invitations too… but I won’t spoil where this goes.
There is a lot of big theatre around at the moment. Ambitious in scale; loud; sometimes a little preachy. This jewel of a piece conveys its message in momentary looks, flowing gestures, a few well chosen words, an irrepressible silliness … and a banging sound track.
The ending was surprising and ecstatic. As one audience member said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that”. This is an act of rebellion. And perhaps an invitation to the rest of us to make the most of whatever life we have in front of us – to be curious, to move and play, and to connect and revel with others.
I can’t think of a more joyous and enlivening way to spend and hour and a bit.