Relationships are a complex beast to understand, and even more so to portray on the stage. The finer details, the unraveling of layers and the history of a couple, have to be understandable to the audience, whilst still maintaining dramatic effect and intention. May by Probe seeks to combine the fictional story of May, a girl whose beauty doesn’t compensate for her desire to release the pain she feels through self-harm, and Gregory, the shy but devoted and wishful boyfriend.
May is a curious performance piece that Probe, fronted by Antonia Grove, combining the company’s dance basis with dialogue written by Tim Crouch and music by Scott Smith. The overall effect is of a tenderness that meets and crashes into chaos. Crouch’s dialogue is unhinged by the characters’ inability to express themselves, which then gets explored through dance by Grove and fellow performer Ben Duke.
Crouch frames the piece within a community-run hall where participants can show the assembled group their talent for entertainment. For Gregory, his performance is a collection of poems and stories about his love for May. As Gregory, Duke is a warm performer whose stumbled lines and awkwardness are lovingly expressed. Equally, Grove as the troubled May is remarkably fragile and looks lost even in the small theatre of the Tobacco Factory, so delicate that she might break at any moment.
What makes May a challenging piece is the language that Probe attempts to portray. If Crouch’s words are to be stumbled, delivered as lists or in poetic waves, then this is matched with alluring songs and music, or frantic passionate dancing. The language of Gregory and May is constantly changing, as they attempt to express what they can’t, which becomes a little repetitive from an audience’s perspective. The piece is less fluid when the action is stopped and returned to Gregory’s constant explanations of May’s behaviour.
Having said that, there is a poetic language that seems to be drawn out of the combination of text, movement and music. The exploration of what the relationship is Duke and Grove sees them continually confronting each other in colliding moments. This ultimately pushes them together until they are bound by a love, a nurturing of each other, and Gregory’s attempts at controlling the delusional May.
Whilst the piece doesn’t always flow, May seeks to prise open the dynamics of a destructive character, to draw out the poetry of a broken mind and consider the question: “What language do relationships speak?” At times tender, at times chaotic, Probe presents an enjoyable performance dance-theatre piece.
May was performed during Mayfest at the Tobacco Factory. For more Mayfest events see the website here.