Drew McOnie’s Drunk. No, that’s not a criticism, it’s an exciting and vivacious evening of music and dance that had its first airing last Tuesday at the Leicester Curve. It was only a month ago that I saw his stage work for the first time in the raunchy and inventive Chicago, at the very same theatre. Now he has launched his own dance company with a new show, the exhilarating and cheery Drunk; 80 minutes of fast, frenetic, funny and fabulous choreography interspersed with the story of how “Ice” spent her evening, waiting for a date and recollecting ex-lovers by means of Grant Olding’s wistful and witty songs.
Whilst Ice (Miss Gemma Sutton on terrific vocal form) is hanging expectantly round the bar, she encounters various customers who all take on the mantle of representing various drinks. Scotch, Martini, cider, Absinthe, vodka, champagne and rum, all get a mention in the programme but I reckon there were quite a few others there who turned up at the bar with the intention of getting smashed. Ice herself is somewhat slow to nail her drink colours to the mast, and with the others all demanding to know what she wants to order, the pressure is on – and she can’t decide. It’s as though her senses are assaulted by the huge variety of alcoholic choices; confronted by an overload of optics one might say. Surprisingly, Ice isn’t a great mixer; I guess when the heat is on she tends to water down the contents a bit. Thus she looks horrified when getting coerced into a dance routine by those reckless spirits cavorting around her, although she soon gets the hang of it. As each digestif gets digested, she starts to loosen up, and as the evening comes to an end, she finally melts and makes her choice.
From my position in the front row of the Curve Studio last Tuesday, I felt a tremendous impact from the show. It’s like a waft of pleasure that just hits you direct from the stage. The set is simple but effective. You’re in a nightclub, with the wonderful band amassed on the other side of the bar, who create a fantastically sophisticated sound that incorporates jazz and swing, with elements of musical theatre; in fact, the score contains a wide variety of musical influences and absolutely calls out for a cast album to be made. Along the bar counter are enticingly shaped frosted glasses and bottles that the dancers will later take to both their mouths and their hearts; apart from that there are just a couple of stylised box seats scattered around and an empty stage for the eight superb performers to fill. The majority of the costumes are in various shades of grey and white, which look classy and elegant by themselves and then take on the livelier colours of whatever light is being projected on to them, creating an almost chameleon effect. The whole thing is a cunning combination of classiness and self-indulgence; in a nutshell, it all looks and sounds gorgeous.
The real impact though is from the incredibly lively and strong dancing. These eight performers really know the meaning of entertainment. At close range, you can see so clearly the huge effort and stamina required for them to do what they do, and I am full of admiration. I don’t know how collaborative the choreographic process is – very, I expect – because each dancer seems to have their own particular moves or styles at which they excel and which form a major part of their contribution to the show; for example no one does slinky sexy quite like Miss Anabel Kutay, and no one does athletic high kicks quite like Mr Ashley Andrews, and both of them have great routines that encourage them to dig deep and absolutely perform their socks off.
What sets this show apart from many other excellent dance pieces is its clear narrative, as expressed through the songs, rather than being a group of scenes each with equal abstract weight from which you assemble your own interpretation of what’s going on. That’s what makes it feel more like a one-act play, enhanced with music and dancing, instead of simply a piece of contemporary dance. It has the “one woman’s journey” element of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday, but with those great moves to accompany it, it’s a lot more entertaining.
The whole show flows beautifully from scene to scene, and each scene generates its own humour or pathos as well as its superb dancing; but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my favourite moments. I loved the humour and choreography of the opening routine where all the dancers start chatting up their chosen drinks and the “drinkies” themselves start to respond back, so that they end up almost making love to each other. The thought of Mr Simon Hardwick’s slightly shocked response to his bottle snuggling up to him (“oh, that’s a bit intimate”) still makes me laugh. Another highlight was Miss Katy Lowenhoff’s glittering (literally) appearance as Champagne, the belle of the bar, whizzing about in an appropriately bubbly fashion, whilst everyone else was singing from their pompous wine tasting notes. But perhaps the funniest sequence featured Messrs Andrews, Collins, and Misses Kutay and Lawrence as four posh sporty types, chukka-ing their polo ponies and getting down to some very close quarters rowing. It had the audience in hysterics.
Drunk has a very grown-up feel to it, and it doesn’t shy away from a number of adult themes, which absolutely proves that top-quality dance is probably the most expressive form of theatre you can see. In productions like this, you don’t need words to be eloquent. It was one of those shows where you came away at the end a better person than the one you went in as. I sense this new show is going to make a big impression on the dance world, and it was a privilege to be part of its first ever audience. There’s only a handful of seats left for Saturday’s performance at the Curve, but it’s going on for a month’s season at the Bridewell theatre in London in February. Really tempted to go again!