Daft, thought-provoking, moving and utterly sincere: Plan B for Utopia

Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
June 7, 2017

David Mead

“Why is it easier to imagine the end of the world, than a world that is changed for the better?” Solène Weinachter asks at the start. “Good question,” replies John Kendall. What she’s getting at is not so much that particular question per se but why is it so easy to think negatively, especially when things go wrong. As she says later, “You have a plan, and then you don’t. You have a dream, then you wake up. You fall in love, and your heart gets broken. The question is: do you pick up the pieces and try again?” Do you turn to Plan B?

Joan Clevillé’s Plan B for Utopia is an hour that looks at how we live our lives, about dreams and wishes, about having another go when things don’t work out. As the couple take us through several sketches, what it’s about more than anything is their friendship.

Weinachter sucks us in right from the start, inviting a few audience members to join in a game with some building blocks. Centre stage is a microphone. It may be in vogue in dance and dance theatre these days but that’s usually enough to make the heart sink. Far too often what is spoken detracts from the dance itself, seems a cover for a lack of dance ideas, or is poorly delivered.

But then not every piece has this couple. They clown, they sing, they dance – often goofily, they speak about their wishes. Weinachter is wide-eyed, enthusiastic, exuberant and desperate to please. The words come and keep coming. Her delivery is a joy, her French accent somehow adding extra layers to the text. Best is her telling of a story about an old man walking through a magic forest in which she manages to play every role, even the trees, and does all the sound effects too. Kendall meanwhile is calmer, somewhat fatalistic and, while he has dreams, content with the present.

Solène Weinachter and John Kendall in Plan B for Utopia Photo Nicole Guarino
Solène Weinachter and John Kendall in Plan B for Utopia
Photo Nicole Guarino

The evening saunters through that and other sketches, each with a different accent and mood, some focusing on dance, some on speech, some out and out clowning. Another scene features Kendall brilliantly lip-synching Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow while Weinachter turns puppeteer, manipulating his arms with a couple of wire coat-hangers. The contrast between that and the idealism of the song is clear, and yet, as in all the best works, the moral is never pushed.

They may be identically dressed in their checked shirts and grey trousers but their differences do not auger well. Towards the end, Weinachter produces a cake a celebrates Kendall’s birthday with such force that he’s left dazed. He hides in the huge cardboard box which doubles as a prop store. Ever more desperate to revive his spirits, she tips him out and in an whirlwind of images turns the box into a camper van (one of his earlier stated wishes), a boat, an airplane and, increasingly desperate, finally re-enacts Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat.

In ends seemingly happily with the couple playing with wooden blocks shifting them from mouth to arms to floor to the strains of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. But you can’t help just wondering if it’s all an illusion? Are we going to need Plan C?

Plan B for Utopia is a grand way to round off this DanceXchange season at the Patrick Centre (although there’s still Hippodrome-programmed dance to come). Weinachter, Kendall and Clevillé get every word, every look, every silent moment, so spot on. As they throw the window on their personal world open, it’s funny, occasionally daft even, thought provoking and moving. What really makes it, though, is the total sincerity of the performers.