Review of Candoco’s The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On by Candoco Dance Company and choreographer Jérôme Bel was performed at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th April, after a recent critically-acclaimed run at Sadler’s Wells.

For the first five minutes, I wondered if something had gone wrong backstage: the audience were sitting in darkness, listening to a series of pop songs leisurely played by a lone DJ at the front of the stage. A bare space became, imperceptibly, lit and finally the company emerged to confront the audience, only breaking into dance during The Beatles’ ‘Come Together.’

The 19-strong troupe is a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers, some professional, some not, from a variety of backgrounds, all united by an ability to use the subtlest shift in posture to signal a collective change in attitude which redraws the contract with the audience.

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With a medley of gestures and dance moves, Candoco’s very individual dancers combined to produce a show that was sometimes funny and sometimes moving. The DJ finally got to shadowbox out his frustrations in a cone of light; Nick Cave’s Into Your Arms was the darkly romantic background to a genuinely poignant celebration of the human hug; elsewhere, winsome lyrics and received ideas were challenged by movement that veered from oddly graceful to absurd repetitions.

By the time Yellow Submarine was playing the audience had joined in and the show became more abstract and playful: light was removed from ‘Imagine’, by John Lennon; sound was intermittently removed from The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, so that singing along became disorientating, creating the sense of being fundamentally out of synch.

After my own disorientation, this was a show which I enjoyed very much: it was unpredictable, minimal and finally joyous, rewarding patience with some funny gags as well as challenging preconceptions about what a performance is, and what performers must be. A diverse soundtrack, featuring Queen, Edith Piaf, Roberta Flack and that terrible bilge from the prow of the ship scene in Titanic, was imaginatively and idiosyncratically animated with the bare essentials of light, space and bodies. It invited the audience to contemplate possibilities outside traditional show business guidelines, and it made you tap your feet and want to dance alongside the people on the stage.