Review: GISELLE: REMIX, Pleasance Theatre

A modern queer update of the classic ballet.

By: Apr. 15, 2024
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Review: GISELLE: REMIX, Pleasance Theatre Created by cabaret artist Jack Sears and Royal Ballet soloist Hannah Grennell, Giselle:Remix fuses dance and lip sync.

The show appeared last November at the Royal Opera House as part of their ROH Late programme. The running time for this latest version has now been extended from 40 to 70 minutes but the focus is still on innocence and romance seen through the lens of the contemporary queer experience.

Those expecting firm nods toward Adolphe Adam's popular 1841 ballet may be left scratching their heads. The original storyline of a woman driven to madness and suicide who takes up with a gang of lady ghosts and then ultimately chooses her still-living lover over her new gal pals - serves here more as a slight inspiration with little in the way of connecting tissue to the source material. The diaphanous skirts worn by the dancers could be an allusion to the frustrated phantoms, there’s an occasional snatch of the Adam score and the sampled voices of romcom queens a reference to Giselle's relentlessly passionate nature but it is all a little vague.

Review: GISELLE: REMIX, Pleasance Theatre
Photo credit: Ali Wright

The show is smartly bookended by witty sequences from veritable drag legend Kit Green (icons Jonny Woo and Lavinia Coop will take over later in the run). Dressed in matching yellow raincoat and wellies and lip syncing to "Stormy Weather", their enchanting routine prefaces Sear’s own journey which goes from light and fluffy lovey-doveyness through to more deviant depictions.

A Busby Berkeley-like routine featuring a nifty quartet of backing dancers (Harri Eiffert, Elle Fierce, Spike King and Marie Astrid Mence) is simple but charming. It happily allows the smiling Sears to depict the dreamy side of 1990s Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore romcoms before diving headlong into an exploration of the harsh world of pornography. It’s a facile volte-face that doesn’t dig too deep, a surface-level side-by-side comparison which makes obvious points and doesn’t ask too many questions.

Review: GISELLE: REMIX, Pleasance Theatre
Photo credit: Ali Wright

The most effective piece sees Sears, like Miss Havisham popping out to Club Pedestal, thrash around in a floor-length black rubber dress and veil to ear-grinding electronica (Wayne McGregor would surely approve). This broadens out as more dancers in standard strappy bondage gear arrive and slutdrop like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a visceral Catherine wheel of pure motion and dark emotion that stands out amid the more messy or unimaginative elements elsewhere.

Giselle: Remix is very much a grab bag of notions and thoughts which, lacking any real centripetal force, find little cohesion and resonance. A last-minute reminder to respect gay elders - something which has hitherto not been alluded to - is welcome but feels tagged on. Voice samples are used plentifully throughout providing dramatic ballast to lightweight on-stage movement or mock-shocking us with mentions of double penetration and pussies. There are definite echoes of seminal 1990s films like Trainspotting and Human Traffic in the matter-of-fact descriptions of sexual acts.

Review: GISELLE: REMIX, Pleasance Theatre
Photo credit: Ali Wright

If there’s a major performance weak spot in the show, it is Sears himself. Alongside Green, his average lip synching skills are brutally evident; while one uses their entire face and physical motions to express each and every lyric, the other relies on flapping his gums and little else. His dancing is noticeably perfunctory too, something less noticeable when in company or adorned in one of the showstopping costumes.

What Sears and Grennell deliver in spades is not so much an update, a reflection or even a latter-day meditation on the supposed source material but (with some heavy lifting from an evocative soundtrack featuring queer heroes all the way from Judy Garland to SOPHIE) is a broad state of the nation address on the modern gay experience through the eyes of youth living it today. The topics here - chem sex, anal sex, fetish sex and even romantic sex - have all been covered with more humour and insight elsewhere (not least the likes of Ben Burrata's Groove and the wickedly funny songs of Bourgeois & Maurice) but there's an endearingly spiky vibe which draws us in. 

Giselle: Remix continues at Pleasance Theatre until 27 April.

Kit Green will be appearing as Ida Barr (music hall singer turned purveyor of Artificial Hip-Hop) at Wilton's Music Hall on 28 May.

Photo credit: Ali Wright




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