The woman inside the dress: David Glass Ensemble in The Brides

Jacksons Lane, London
January 24, 2023

The audience are greeted with the sight of seven women, as yet unborn, encased in plastic cocoons, for which read the womb. After fighting their way into the world, into what we are told is the Palace of Survival, they dress as brides, and, overseen by the Death Bride, they wait for a groom who never comes as they dance, love and fight their way through the four seasons of a woman’s life.

Based on an original idea by Margherita Fusi and Silvia Bruni of Siena-based Italian theatre company Topi Dalmata, and written and directed by David Glass, The Brides quickly develops into a riotous seventy minutes of physical theatre that pulls the senses and mind in all directions.

The Brides has no specific story line, although a vague sense of direction does become more apparent towards the end. Glass’ description of the work as a series of lazzi, short moments found in Commedia delle’arte used to ensure the show keeps pace or to enliven the audience when a scene is dragging is apt. It does have a flow, but not that of a gently meandering river. This one tumbles down a cascade hitting various rocks and outcrops on the way.

David Glass Ensemble in The Brides
(pictured in Italy with a larger cast)
Photo Giacomo Gabrielli

The fabulous cast exude tremendous energy. From the early scene where the Death Bride feeds the newborns only for them to turn on her and rip into her like a frenzied pack of wolves, the action tends towards the deeply visceral.

Thereon, imagery, and the combination of sound, music and movement, makes for a roller-coaster ride where you never quite know what is coming next. Nothing lasts more than two or three minutes. If something doesn’t grab you and, as always, some ideas do more than others, don’t worry because something else, a change of gear or direction, will be along in a few seconds. But that’s also the work’s weakness. Nothing gets a chance to develop. While it is all undoubtedly very inventive, very creative, the sheer number of ideas taken up does mean that things do sometimes get confused and unclear.

Glass’ list of influences is long, with Pina Bausch often seemingly to the fore. One number that sees the brides sat on a line of chairs performing a part-unison gestural dance certainly appears to reference her work. Some of the comedy is not unlike that of the Marx Brothers, meanwhile.

David Glass Ensemble in The Brides
(pictured in Italy with a larger cast and a set not seen in London)
Photo Francesco Toiati

It is often disturbing, certainly subversive. There is tension. There is confrontation. It is sometimes brutally honest, notably in the one sexually explicit scene and another where disagreements erupt into vicious violence.

At times, and even though they are part of a group, one senses loneliness. The overarching sense is one of desperation and desire, however. When the Death Bride holds an empty picture frame aloft. The other brides see something in it. An ideal, an impossible dream perhaps.

These restless women are not only looking for that never-to-appear groom, they are looking for direction and purpose as they bounce through scenes and around life, as individuals and as a group. Quite early, you get the feeling their desperation and desire will not be resolved, however. It feels like they are trapped in some sort of nightmare from which there is no escape.

Amid it all, there are moments of tenderness, times when The Brides finds a much-needed eddy, a moment of calm. The more dynamic, exciting moments are only such because Glass gives it that chance to breathe.

The accompanying music flips around as much as the movement ideas and vocabulary, shifting unexpectedly between pop songs and darker classical numbers including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which morphs directly into the Macarena at one point, and which is returned to several times.

The Brides. Sometimes provocative, sometimes, shocking, sometimes amusing, certainly challenging. A work full of strength, desperation and beauty, where emotions of all sorts burst forth without fear and at every opportunity.

Presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, The Brides is at Jacksons Lane, Highgate, London to January 29, 2023.