Tom Roden and Pete Shenton are New Art Club. A duo with tangible chemistry and differences between them, which, when put together, keep the show tripping forwards. Tom has the cool, Pete has the madness, Tom has the comic timing, Pete has the imagination. This is Now is a funny show (they are billed as either comedy, dance or both depending on the venue), which is, at best, a surprising, physically rooted, multi-layered and warped collage of memories and, at worst, pantomime. The best and worst are both embraced to (somehow unidentifiable) good effect.
I’m thinking that not being a teenager of the eighties will hinder my enjoyment of the show – it being a trip down a very eighties themed memory lane (my research for my eighties costume is a very American themed google search of Madonna and The Breakfast Club) – but it seems that my memory of a south London primary school in the nineties is close enough to keep me included in the fun. Although, what is Caramac? That reference passed over my head.
The piece is as loud and gaudy as printed leggings but it is also a decent study of nostalgia and sentiment. What do we really miss? Old school terrorism? Broken hearts? It seems so!
This is now gestures towards the weird and dark but stays sweet. Maybe sweeter than necessary and I disagree with the duo joke that they are too rude for kids, I feel that actually the show would in fact be very suited to a young audience (were it not for the decade in question). I wanted darker humour and weirder dancing. Maybe the hint of it was enough. However dark or weird or not, thankfully they do know how to laugh at themselves. And the music did put me in the right mood for that disco.
Normally I don’t much like going to The Place. I mean, I go, because I like or hope I’ll like some of the work that is presented there, but I invariably feel alienated, even if I’m with a bunch of friends or there to write about the performance. It’s a kind of cold snootiness that I experience, although am very much aware that this is my deal because lots of people like it just fine.
Last night began a new era in my understanding of The Place. My friends and I walked into the bar to the sounds of the 80s disco to which we (OK, they) had been looking forward. The normally sterile space was transformed into Club Tropicana, or perhaps a version that the 1983 youth club mentioned in the performance might have had a go at. It was mega. A handful of people had even come dressed for the occasion; my favourite, for authenticity, would have to be Eddie Nixon, the theatre director of The Place, dressed in a white suit with slicked back hair, à la Duran Duran. Every dance show should welcome its audience with a party, in order to fill even the most cynical, hardened dance-goers (that’s me!) with a sense of celebration and anticipation, and every programmer should dress up according to the performance she or he’s presenting.
It seems a shame that I’ve been compelled to write more about the environs of the performance than of the work itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of New Art Club since seeing their fabulous The Visible Men a few years ago, a fantastic evening that confronts the audience with their autonomy or the lack thereof, but I found myself looking for the same gentle cleverness in This is Now. That’s not to say that there weren’t moments of the same kind of self-realisation that The Visible Men had provoked: the terrorist dance, where the two choreographer-dancers execute a gun-toting choreography wearing balaclavas and ask us to clap along, made me consider my own ethics in relation to the memory of war and violence. I was uncomfortable, but that’s precisely what I needed in amongst all the laughs.
And the laughs were plentiful, from start to finish, from old-fashioned sex jokes to the wonderful absurdity of watching grown men do English country dancing with two imaginary children and Sister Mary, an imaginary nun. The best joke, for the dance savvy massive, was the O-level dance Tom Roden recuperated for us 27 years later, in the full knowledge that GCSE, A-level and even degree students are still learning the same ol’ modern dance rubbish of yesteryear. Yes, I had a wonderful time – my belly’s still hurting now – but I think that dance can, and should, do more than amuse me on a Saturday night.