Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre at Sadler’s Wells
March 2, 2017
Stopgap Dance Company’s The Enormous Room held a lot of promise. Sadly, one is not able to see the wood for the trees. Despite employing dramaturge Lou Cope, and having external “creative input during research and development”, the result is muddy and mostly dull.
The premise is good: a father and daughter grieve in different ways for their dead wife and mother. Stripped down to a three-hander on a less self-consciously quirky set and running at about 30 minutes, this could have been a very powerful piece. Instead, the flapping doors and shifting tables and drawers distract for 75 minutes, not helped by Lucy Bennett’s often repetitive choreography and Dougie Evans’ equally repetitive, soporific music.
Some of the choreography is undoubtedly inventive but appears clever for its own sake rather than serving the narrative. The hand coming up from the drawer is rather too reminiscent of Thing in The Addams Family and I wasn’t convinced that Dave (David Toole) would hallucinate his late wife rolling under the table quite so often.
Never mind mothers-in-law, we have Jackie the mother in Sam’s memory and Jackie the wife in Dave’s memory to sort out. I thought that Tom (Sam’s friend) was meant to be an expression of grieving Dave and I have no idea how Chock (Nadenh Poan) fitted into the plot. He rather reminded me of the late lamented Michael Staniforth playing Timothy Claypole in Rentaghost, but perhaps that was the influence of the chaos of the dead women rolling around the stage.
The Enormous Room lacks the courage of its own convictions (probably rightly in its chosen format), to portray the narrative entirely in movement, but by the time the monologues arrive, I had already disengaged mentally. There are long strings of movement in between where dancers twist and turn in chains and roll under and over the set, slamming door flaps as they go. Towards the end, Anna Jones’ set is reversed to show the daughter’s take on it. All that does is to stop the narrative and the unevenness of the presentation, mostly seen from Dave’s perspective, emphasises the gap. Rather than portraying Sam as wanting to escape, she seemed shut in her bedroom.
The ever-reliable David Toole does his best with the material although even he appeared to dry on one of the monologues. He is credible as the insular widow and throws his character over the footlights, but Hannah Sampson as Sam, the daughter, doesn’t have much to go on.
All in all a disappointing evening and a work that would benefit from some judicious rewriting and cutting, and clearer characterisation.