Dark days, inner voices and coming through: Nobody by Motionhouse

Peacock Theatre, London
September 22, 2021

From Logela Multimedia’s digital imagery through Simon Dorman’s shape-shifting set to Artistic Director Kevin Finnan’s familiar fast-paced and highly physical choreography, Motionhouse’s new Nobody is spectacular. As indeed are seven dancers, who equally manage to combine strength with a sometimes surprising grace and elegance.

Logela’s backing cityscape is stunning. It twists and zooms dizzyingly in and out. Rather cleverly, it contrives to look and be familiar without being anywhere in particular. Like everything else in the show, the colours in it are truly vivid, and a stark contrast to many of the emotions being portrayed. The stage itself is dotted with rectangular blocks looking like miniature apartment blocks with illuminated windows.

That’s in contrast to the black of the crows who swoop ominously over the scene, on the projections and portrayed by black-clad dancers whose arms become wings. As the get louder, the sense of menace increases, topped out by a huge shadow of one on the backdrop.

Nobody by Motionhouse
Photo Dan Tucker

Those crows represent our inner voices, which a lot of people heard a lot of during the two big lockdowns. In Nobody, Finnan describes perfectly the way they tended to drown out anything and everything else. It was impossible to escape them.

For all the busy action, some of the more telling moments are the quietest, in terms of movement at least. From the backing cityscape and amid several small boxes that represent apartment blocks, a huge covered frame emerges, onto which a house is projected. It’s an ordinary house that actually looks like one of the many Georgian residences in Royal Leamington Spa, the company’s home town. But it has surprise contents. As it’s tipped up onto one corner and rotated, we spy the bright pink-trousered Shannon Kate Platt, hanging to its inside. Trying to hold on, alone, just as many did in those dark shut-down months of last winter especially.

Each dancer plays both crow and human. That may be partly of necessity but if you think about it, they are one and the same.

Nobody by Motionhouse
Photo Dan Tucker

Soon after, Berta Contijoch sits alone on one of the small boxes, exuding a sense of being cooped up in a very small space. Those of us who have gardens or countryside to escape to can only wonder what it was like for people in small city flats. When she dances with Joel Pradas Reguill as one of the crows, despite her best efforts, there’s no escape as she dances with her inner voice; in one sense, having a conversation in movement with herself.

And so, the familiar keeps returning. Perhaps, significantly, a lot seems to take place at night, when my own voices always seemed to be at their loudest. The humans fall out. Some think it’s all over before it really is. Full of loud bravado, two men find themselves shunned by two women in particular.

Ear-splitting, thumping music is not unusual in Motionhouse shows, but in Nobody, Tim Dickinson and Sophy Smith take it to extremes. It is relentless and quite deafening to the point of being painful. It makes the likes of Hofesh Shechter and Sharon Eyal look like models of restraint. While that volume may reflect the nature of the voices we hear in our heads (from personal experience, they do have a habit of drowning everything else out), there comes a point where it detracts from rather than adds to the experience.

Motionhouse’s Nobody
Photo Dan Tucker

That is certainly the case in Act II, which opens in the darkest depths with the dancers drowning in a sea of black. But even the longest tunnel ends eventually, and they emerge like the survivors they are.

Gone are the projections, and gone are the crows, Finnan leaving us with just the now stripped large frame and the dancers. The choreography takes on a near-abstract feel. At times there’s a sense of celebration. Performers are tossed and fly through the air as if weightless. When they fall from the top of the frame, there’s a moment when time seems to nearly stop, the fall itself almost appearing to be in slow-motion. Mostly, though, they ebb and flow with ease, sculptural pictures forming and dissolving, only to reassemble differently elsewhere.

It could have had a beautiful sense of peace and resolution but, sadly, the overbearing music (the higher notes on the piano in it are worst of all) removes any chance of that. That’s a shame, because, overall, Nobody is an eloquent and thoughtful reflection on what those dark days were like for so many.

Read David Mead’s conversation with Kevin Finnan about the work here.

Nobody is at the Peacock Theatre, London to September 25, 2021, then continues on tour. Visit www.motionouse.co.uk for dates and venues for this and other productions.