Review: The Featherstonehaughs in Edits at Village Underground

Performance: 2 - 4 November 2010
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Thursday 4 November 2010

The Featherstonehaughs 'Edits'. Ming-Hei Wong, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes, Sebastian Kurth.
Photo: Pau Ross.

Reviewed: 3 November 2010

Village Underground, a disused Victorian warehouse, tucked away from the bustle of Shoreditch High Street and converted into a multi-purpose space, is the venue for The Featherstonehaughs’ new work Edits. The bare brick, vaulted-ceiling interior, dressed with overhead rig and vertical spot towers in corners is a suitably atmospheric environment for Lea Anderson’s dramatic and experimental piece, which presents her all-male company in their latest guises as female film stars, who pose and quiver in the cavernous space.

With no stage or seating, the performance space is two areas that join together in an “L” shape, the audience shuffling from left to right in the corner as the focus of the action moves back and forth throughout. In the larger of the two areas, two wooden frames are suspended from the high roof and squares of light are projected on the floor. The other area features another frame, near to the ground, large enough to contain all six of the dancers. Two men – an electric guitarist and a saxophonist – hovering on the sidelines, in black dresses and dishevelled long black wigs, perform live accompaniment.

The dancers, in full drag make-up, heels and dresses, execute ballroom moves in pairs, dipping, twirling and lifting one another: acting out the traditional heterosexual couple on the dance floor, though both are dressed as women. Sometimes they are strangely stiff and awkward, too tall and masculine for the cut of the clothes and the femininity of the lines, but at other points, I find myself wondering whether a couple of them actually are women.

Apart from the dance hall references though, the choreography is more performance than dance. The projected squares of light serve as spotlights, into which characters slowly walk and pose, like automatons, staring blankly ahead. During long sections they shift in and out of performance mode as they enter and exit the cinematic ‘gaze’ of the squares. One character, in a green velvet dress with bell sleeves and a curly red wig, has a penchant for posing or reclining, basking in our attention, lips pouting and quivering suggestively, another, in a black bobbed wig and polka-dot blouse seems to react in fear or paranoia, occasionally throwing us accusatory glances, a third, in gold lame with a straight glossy bob, violently twitches, as though our watching were an electric current surging through her body.

The piece is fractured and difficult to follow when the action is taking place in the larger space (not least because it is hard to stand for the duration and to maintain a good vantage point, uninterrupted by someone else’s head), but works best when the characters create tableaux inside the large single frame. There are comic and disturbing moments here, that seem to tell us more of a story – as our paranoid polka-dot lady repeatedly kicks out from her position at the bottom of the picture towards the towering, quiver-lipped attention seeker, I wonder if there is a simmering murderous intent between these two. And when the whole cast strike ridiculous poses inside the frame: one character leaning nonchalantly on another’s backside, one with arms victoriously outstretched, displaying sparkling kaftan wings, and another being dragged by the feet out of the frame by another, there is spontaneous laughter and applause.

See The Featherstonehaughs Draw On The Sketch Books of Egon Schiele
_*_6 , 8 – 10 November, 8pm, The Place, www.theplace.org.uk

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