Dance Class in fact begins with a psychology conference, at which lecturer and addiction specialist Tom is rudely interrupted by tipsy nurse Eva, the stranger who will later become his wife. Framed by this initial narrative of boy-meets-girl, the eponymous dance class itself feels at once central to the play and somehow peripheral. Dancing is initially a pastime for Eva, later a distraction from a failing marriage and finally an antagonist to it. And yet it is essentially ancillary, because, as Eva tells Tom, the dancing is a symptom and not the cause of their deteriorating relationship.
Addiction is at the fore throughout, from Eva’s infatuation with the giddy gyrations of her lessons and sinewy dance teacher, to Tom’s increasing alcohol dependency and Maggie’s ceaseless scolding of her son. This much we might have gleaned without an opening lecture in the subject, and yet, over-egging themes aside, the play delivers much more than analogy. An ailing love story provides a sensitive exploration of the compulsions which drag us towards and away from each other.
These forces are played out physically by pulsing choreography which sweeps characters from scene to scene. Eva and Tom caper towards the bliss of escape but catharsis remains always a beat ahead. Pippa Winslow’s Eva is elegant, supple and sensuous, Andre Radmall’s Tom is superbly graceless from his fledgling steps learning (or refusing to learn) his wedding dance, to the furious, disordered stamping of feet as he angrily shouts “I’m dancing Eva, isn’t this what you want?”
Tom’s coarseness also manifests itself in an unsentimental humour shared by his castigating mother (Maggie). Blunt and cynical, Tom’s self-derision in fact lends his character warmth, and provides some of the most amusing and enjoyable moments of the play. Particularly memorable are his reminiscences of a mother who went as far as disconnecting the electricity and dismantling the television plug in a bid to stop her unruly child disobeying her. Maggie herself is deliciously straight-talking and Ellie Dickens should be applauded for her studied portrayal of this tough, uncompromising woman. Praise is also due to Winslow, whose Eva retains a certain tenderness throughout, even as disappointment in her relationship leads her to supplant a caring and joyful spirit with cold numbness.
In spite of an adept cast and strong direction, there are a few moments within this ambitious play where the audience’s engagement with the narrative is interrupted by the friction of slightly too self-aware dialogue. Particularly during scenes of confrontation, characters tend to refer a little too much to the irony of their own situation. The alcoholic called out on his hypocrisy as an addiction specialist by a dance-obsessed wife; the therapist undertaking therapy.
These details aside, Dance Class at the very least succeeds – in the manner of any good shrink – in getting its audience thinking. In fact, this is the first play from performer and psychologist Radmall, whose own career has included the study of addiction. It would perhaps be excessive to refer here to Mark Twain’s oft-cited “write what you know”, but it’s certainly obvious that Radmall has capitalised on a clear understanding of his subject. Removing the psychological wrapping of this promising play – the addiction lecturer trapped inside – would only further enrich it.
Dance Class is playing at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 5 February. For more information and tickets see the Lion and Unicorn Theatre’s website.