The piece was performed on 9 September at The Place.

By: Sep. 10, 2023

Review: THE REVENGE OF POPPERFACE, The Place "Content Warning - this performance contains nudity, haze and fake blood" - welcome to the Autumn season at The Place!

The Revenge of Popperface by Gareth Chambers invites the audience to muse over "an experimental exploration of masculinity" through the occult and opera no less.

Chambers is the kind of choreographer one should know about but probably doesn't. Why? A subculture of creativity? Very likely…as these types of makers aren't guaranteed commercial successes; they're aiming to challenge the sector rather than sedate it.

The Place theatre had been altered to offer a new 'front' and seating on three sides of the space. The set design is 'snuff movie via a satanic cult at ritual time' realness: black plastic, red hue lighting, incense burning and a pair of legs belonging to a dead person one assumes. The cast of two, Richard Pye and Joseph Grey Adams, are dressed in suits wardening the space until they turn to face the disheveled plastic mound and the ceremonial journey begins.

The ritualistic movement starts on all fours with generous upper body undulations signifying intoxication, and the arrival of a new state. Chambers captures the euphoric state of drug taking through movement with skill, as one clearly sees a shift, where pleasure becomes paramount and inhibitions are lost. He uses slo-mo, suspension and spatial tension to communicate the altered mental and physical conditions, and it's an interesting watch.

The less attractive side of drugs also feels evident, with the two men communicating frustration and paranoia through movement that reads like wrestling with oneself. Bound, aggressive and with audible breath they seem equally divided between turmoil and ecstasy.

At this point one man moves to the side (there are no wings) and undresses. In the moment it feels somewhat awkward, not the inevitable nakedness, but the mundane action of slowly undressing while being watched.

The naked body is always interesting to observe, in both form and movement, and especially when viewed under down lighting as all minutiae is amplified. The naked man now proceeds to undress his counterpart, yet none of this feels overtly sexual (to me), although the already evident power struggle keeps flitting between the two - dominant versus submissive etc.

Once both naked they have a good old tussle, and why not. Masculinity has many facets, and the necessity to prove physical strength is absolutely one of them, often followed by sexual need. Throughout the work, text is projected onto the black wall backdrop, confirming when acts begin and also sharing profound statements in Old English (which feels a bit lazy and disconnected). Mid show we're told there's an interval and the two men proceed to have a vape and a can of Monster Energy each - what a larf. Couldn't be a San Pellegrino natch. 

When things continue we get the (faux) blood element. They pour the liquid over each other in a ceremonial way and off they go, on a slippery sucker exploration of the space and each other's bodies. It's mesmerising to watch, and will take a huge amount of sensitivity and improvisational expertise to do so seamlessly. It goes on for a while, which isn't a problem, and then ends weakly with the two men repeating wrestling style holds. 

The climax of the piece sees the dead legs actually come back to life, and a third man join the festivities. As the soundtrack (what I imagine space to sound like with Amanda Lear lost in it) by Cathedral Hygiene disappears we hear man number three grunting like there's no tomorrow and then the piece is over.

Is there a bigger message behind all of this? I actually don't know, or if there is it wasn't clear to me. It also feels important to contemplate what would be left behind if all the props and visual design elements were taken away. I understand that any work is more than one thing, but as it stands this (dance) piece is mostly about atmosphere, paraphernalia and committed performances. Is that enough?

Photo Credit: Mei Lewis


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