Review: Sweetshop Revolution - I Loved You and I Loved You - artsdepot

Performance: 8 October 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 12 October 2015

Sweetshop Revolution - 'I loved you and I loved you'. Photo: Danilo Moroni

This overdue new work by Sally Marie has taken a tad too long to reach me. It’s been to Scotland, Wales and up-and-down England before arriving here at the smaller of the two theatres housed in North Finchley’s artsdepot. On the 18th performance in the 12th venue of its whirlwind nationwide tour, I rather suspect that it may have lost some of the freshness and vibrancy of those earlier iterations.

But, even if a little tired, it is still an absorbing and powerful work that kept me engaged and fascinated for the full 75 minutes. Marie is one of dance theatre’s effervescent forces: inventive, ever-resourceful and obsessed with building an idea to fruition through careful attention to every minute detail. Her work never fails to garner recognition but pieces have been few and far between: at last, that tide is turning, not least encouraged by the New Adventures Choreographer Award she received from that great story-teller in dance, Matthew Bourne.

I loved you & I loved you is a sensational contribution to the genre of biographical dance, representing the lives of three people who enjoyed disparate fame in early twentieth century Britain and who were curiously inter-connected: the prolific young Welsh composer, Morfydd Owen; Ernest Jones, the pioneering psychoanalyst who became her husband; and the politician, author and sometime tennis player, Eliot Crawshay-Williams.

Marie was introduced to the life of Owen by Brian Ellsbury (her music director on the never-to-be-forgotten Dulce et Decorum) who became the first musician to record Owen’s solo piano music. Exposing her life in dance theatre was a project-in-waiting that had to stay on the back burner until the funds arrived. Their joint fascination for the composer led to a tireless quest for historical accuracy that not only unearthed music previously unknown (a sheet tucked in the back of a book), but also led to the discovery of a cache of letters between the composer and Crawshay-Williams that indicate an unrequited desire beyond friendship.

By coincidence, Jones and Crawshay-Williams were both twelve years’ older than Owen; and both had been involved in sexual scandal before they met her. Jones and Owen married in 1917 but within eighteen months she was to die (aged just 26) in mysterious circumstances, following an emergency appendectomy supervised by her husband on a kitchen table. Perhaps, as an indictment of gender politics in the age of the suffragette, both Jones and Crawshay-Williams lived out long lives full of achievement. Jones – a close associate and biographer of Sigmund Freud – became President of the British Psychoanalytical Society for 25 years; Crawshay-Williams worked for Winston Churchill and contested the Wimbledon men’s’ singles in his 40s (although only once surviving the first round) and wrote many successful books. By contrast, but for her tragic early death, Owen would most likely have rivalled the names of Elgar and Vaughan-Williams in the history of British music.

Marie and Ellsbury have done much to resurrect her fame, not the least by the extraordinary and beautiful compilation of her diverse work that Ellsbury has arranged for the score. Haunting solo piano pieces (played by Ellsbury), recorded choral and orchestral work and some of her wonderful songs, performed live on stage by the impressive Welsh soprano, Ellen Williams. The score included work that has been recorded as well as the hitherto unknown composition.

Another of Marie’s many talents is spotting talent and here she has assembled a strong dance cast of relative unknowns. Performing here on her 22nd birthday, Faith Prendergast is outstanding as the danced persona of Owen (Williams reads the text of the composer’s letters to Crawshay-Williams in between singing her songs). Prendergast has that elusive combination of strength and vulnerability that differentiates her feelings in relationships with the two men: her duets with the tall, imposing figure of Karl Fagerlund Brekke (as Crawshay-Williams) are perhaps figments of an imagined romance with all the impetuous passion that this fantasy might entail, such that Prendergast is more often than not in his arms, on his shoulders or even once, memorably, on his head. The relationship with the more introverted Jones (danced by Daniel Whiley) takes a whole journey of conflicting emotions. The two men handle their spoken text very differently. The stentorian, masculine strength of Fargerlund-Brekke contrasts with a diffident, self-conscious approach by Whiley: while this was no doubt character-led, it did sometimes make it hard to hear the latter’s spoken words from the back of the studio theatre.

The men are strong dancers. Whiley’s long, naked solo while speaking of a paper written by his character about the erotic pleasures of the anal orifice was – believe it or not – tastefully achieved although it was, perhaps, for once, a pleasure to be seated at the back of the theatre. This one scene aside, Emma Bailey’s costumes seemed exactly right for the period.

Marie’s choreography achieves that elusive quality of creating a style all of its own: her several duets were beautifully observed in terms of movement relative to her characters’ respective journeys; but, the highlight for me was the dislocated, extended and contracted movement base that influenced much of the dance excellently performed by Prendergast. Given the intensity of thought that has gone into Marie’s investigation of the composer’s life, its not at all surprising that she manages to achieve such depth of feeling in the movement she has created to represent this super-talented but tragic young woman. It’s a first class work.

Sweetshop Revolution continues to tour I loved you and I loved you across the UK until January 2016
Dates & venues:

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Danilo Moroni

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On