Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Last Dance @ King's Arms, Salford, 27.05.15

Those who know me know what kind of theatre I like, and they know what I’m looking for when I take my seat, programme in hand, waiting for lights up. You could say the qualities I like in theatre are the same I appreciate in my family and friends: passion, tenacity and having something to say. Fortunately Vertigo productions has these three virtues in spades, and have proven as much with its most recent production Last Dance.

The piece is a true labor of love as writer Craig Hepworth started work on it four years ago. Upon viewing at The King’s Arms, it’s evident how much commitment and hard work has gone into the play.

Set in 1980s New York, Last Dance takes an intimate look at a group of family and friends and how their lives are affected when main protagonist Corey is diagnosed with AIDS. Currently unnamed and being referred to as ‘gay cancer’, professional dancer Corey - played by the marvelous Richard Allen - has contracted the immune-attacking virus. Allen is awe-inspiring and gives a heart-wrenching performance, as he effectively applies much-researched physical techniques and dramatic skills to offer an honest portrayal of Corey’s declining health. A standout moment is when Corey first hears his diagnosis from his doctor Henry (Stuart Reeve). It’s a challenge for an actor to emulate a genuine response to something they haven’t encountered personally, but Allen did so brilliantly and I was already reaching for my tissues and fighting the temptation to hug him. This wasn’t the last time I found myself with a lump in my throat; another powerful performance came from Julie Edwards as Corey’s mother Rose, caught between the love of her son and loyalty to her faith.

The weighty content and severity of the issues explored by the play means the cast have to be very honest in their work – the fact that they were paid off. However, there was also a tendency to shout lines. While this is an understandable and realistic response, it can run the risk of disengaging the audience from poignant moments. That isn’t to say the content wasn't engaging though, because it truly was: the story was touching and was told well.

The narrative touches on a variety of other topics and social issues, including assisted suicide; I particularly wanted Hepworth to tread further into this. Of course this may not be the production to do so, but maybe an idea for future work? Whatever the content may be I have every faith that Vertigo are going to continue to produce theatre I like and stories that I love. If Last Dance is anything to go by it’s going to be passionate, bold and with a lot to say!

words: Katie Morris

Image: Courtesy of Vertigo Productions

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