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Crooked Dances at The Other Place Theatre - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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New play by writer of TV comedy show Cuckoo
A new play from the writer of comedy TV show Cuckoo uses the classical piano music of French composer Erik Satie as the basis for a bewitching tale for the Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC) - but is it too far-fetched?

Crooked Dances, RSC, review, other place theatre robin french
Ruth Lass plays reclusive pianist Silvia

With a knack for drawing out those subtle comedy moments of everyday life, Robin French's writing has a zest to it that makes him one of the most exciting contemporary scriptwriters of the moment.

His latest offering is Crooked Dances, which is being performed at the RSC's The Other Place studio theatre until 13 July. It's a drama full of imagery and ethereal qualities with many searching questions.

While the plot starts off as a seemingly straight-forward comedy-drama, after a series of twists and turns in Act Two, it spirals off into sci-fi. There's wolves, mythology and theories about space and time that leave plenty of questions but also feels exciting to watch.

The small theatre at The Other Place makes this an intimate affair, which particularly works well for the opening and closing scenes set on the Eurostar.

Crooked Dances, RSC, review, other place theatre robin french
Cleverly intimate scenes with photographer Nick start off Crooked Dances

This is when we meet ambitious and ruthless journalist Katy and photographer Nick, who are on an assignment from a national newspaper to interview reclusive classical pianist Silvia de Zingaro in France, ahead of her retirement. She has agreed to give the first interview this century, but why?

There's plenty of laughs to get things going as the two young actors playing Katy and Nick sit facing the audience at the front of the stage.

It quickly becomes clear that they are sitting opposite each other on a train in the play as they verbally spar over work issues and jealousies about rival colleagues. There's some clever theatrical devices used and actors Olly Mott and Jeany Spark have a delightful vivaciousness about them. You will probably recognise Jeany from her role as a female soldier in the excellent BBC2 drama Collateral starring Carey Mulligan last year. She impressed then and does so again here.

Getting the runaround from Silvia, the clearly exasperated pair end up at her alpine retreat for the interview, overseen by her protective manager Denis Zann ( Ben Onwukwe, who is a well-known face from his part in London's Burning).

This is where the suspense and mystery kicks in. The clock on the wall spins to various times menacingly, there's a threat of wild wolves and Silvia acts strangely throughout. Ruth Lass plays Silvia with an antagonistic yet bewitching quality, particularly when playing Satie's beautiful work on the piano.

Crooked Dances, RSC, review, other place theatre robin french
Vibrant dialogue in Crooked Dances

French's strong characterisations and dry sense of humour seep into the script to create a vivid, entertaining piece of work. Silvia's passionately combative relationship with Katy is the essence of this play while Nick has the main comedy lines.

There's a great balance within the four actors on stage and the audience is drawn into the mystery as an increasingly desperate Katy, determined to get a scoop, shamelessly rifles through private belongings around the house, including Silvia's handbag, and finds some clues.

What she finds is a collection of mystical books and a fixation with composer Erik Satie that later becomes apparent in a Twilight Zone type twist.

Along the way, there's some deeper conversations around the way journalism is heading, how mobile phones and the digital age are affecting people's attention spans and even whether it is ok to cough during a theatrical performance.

Yes, the fantasy plot is a little strange but the real highlight of this play is the relationships and vibrant dialogue between the distinctive characters.

Crooked Dances, RSC, review, other place theatre robin french
An atmospheric set

The ongoing action on stage is fascinating with a quick pace, where something is always going on. It keeps your attention buzzing at all times, keen to see what will happen next.

With a heady mix of intrigue and comedy, Crooked Dances is an exciting new play that moves between reality and fantasy. Time flew through this fascinating and absorbing drama, but it wasn't due to magic but French's carefully crafted script. Catch it while you can.


Running time: 2 hrs 17 mins 20 mins interval
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Why? See a new exciting play by the writer of Cuckoo
When: Until 13 July
Phone: 01789 331111
Where: The Other Place, 22 Southern Lane, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: £15
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