FringeReview Scotland 2019
The first solo piece sees Neil Joseph Price dance through a personal odyssey that sees him show us how he finds personal fulfilment and purpose whilst being a man with downs. It sees him tantalise his audience with treats before performing for us using the props around his stage and the jacket upon his body. For the second half he returns and along with Frank McConnell they dance about their DNA and how 99% of it is the same but one chromosome makes a massive difference in a duet that is driven with intimate purpose and a lot of humour.
Based on the Greek mythological tale and character, Tantalus, Price enters bringing a tray with him. He offers various members of the audience a piece of whatever may be on that tray before denying them the pleasure by snatching away the treat. It acts as a physical metaphor for what follows.
Price settles on the floor on the stage – sightlines are an issue temporarily – and he begins his own odyssey having drawn us in and tantalised us with what will follow. It is a very effective and charming opening.
Price can dance, that is undeniable. He also has a massive amount to offer. This is a piece that, according to the notes has been long on development and it shows. There are touching parts of it that have drama added – the use of the table is both highly effective and dramatic, there are intimate places where the use of his jacket and the tie show us the expectations he may place on himself and there are points of contemplation where he may be close to what it is he wants but people and society may be his barrier – like the costume people demand we wear to be respectable – he suit and the tie – wonderfully underpinned by being the type of jacket most would kill for.
There is never a point at which Price’s Downs is a focus. I was entranced by his movement and after the first section forgot that society would ask me to bear in mind what he was; I then realised he was a dancer. His performance was clipped, expansive, entreating, endearing and highly mesmeric. With serious purpose it gave me and the audience much to ponder.
That ponderous purpose was then used to great effect in the second piece, alongside Frank McConnell. Beginning with a double act that would be worthy of Abbot and Costello or with a nod to the Marx Brothers, we got a very humorous beginning with both using the screens onstage to give us two people presented as one but one that cannot be, thanks to beautifully choreographed entrances and exits that saw one arrive after the other departed.
McConnell spoke to us and the breaking of the music/dance trance was done to explain and give background to the reasoning of the piece – we may be aw Jock Tamson’s Bairns but we are aw different.
There was a tenderness between the two which drew you into their relationship. It brought joy to many – a few got up on their feet to applaud – and it meant that you felt very much part of a special performance.
When McConnell broke the spell again to be as patronising as society would be to introduce Price, having learned the 2017 Frank Stephen’s speech to Congress and being about to deliver it to us, it was perhaps a bit of a misstep and delved into cliché. The speech is one of the most powerful on the net and one that, I believe almost broke Facebook, and here it was given a Scots accent that added to its power. The preamble was funny, but asked us to look at the relationship between the two differently. It got a laugh, but it cost because I think most of us are past that and it would be nice to move on. The thing is that society has not moved quite as far as the trendies in the audience and perhaps it needed saying – it perhaps needs a better and newly creative medium though.
In both, the direction was indulgent when it had to be and measured when it had the opportunity to push them both into areas that challenged them as dancers and us as an audience.
The music, beautiful, light and an underscore that lifted the piece by its cadence was spot on. The lighting and technical effects made this an easy watch as it was slick and illuminating. The voice over connected the whole piece in an effective manner, giving comfort there was more than a purpose, there was a point to be made – and we had better listen.
Apart from one place where I thought it faltered, this is a beautiful and delightful piece of theatre. It has the power to subtly challenge you and given the need for more people of alternate abilities to make their way into the theatre the two performers of equal merit here deserve to have an audience on their feet wherever they may go.