“How much do you earn?” the young woman (Barbara Blanka) asks, blowing cigarette smoke provocatively into our faces. As uncomfortable opening gambits go, it’s definitely up there. “£12,000,” answers Jacob from Brighton, her unfortunate victim. “How do you live on that?” “I don’t know”.
This is George, the debut show for young physical theatre company Ctngcy Theatre. The troupe consists of Blanka, Max Percy (who came up with the show’s premise) and Igor Smith. Blanka plays the eponymous protagonist, a young man (or he could be a small boy, we’re never quite sure) with bleak employment prospects. Out of the blue George is summoned to a meeting with J., an all-powerful business leader widely believed to give hardworking people the rewards they deserve. But doesn’t all this sound too good to be true?
It’s an intriguing, Kafkaesque premise which the show never quite capitalises on. There’s something grungy about George which is appealingly rough around the edges if you’re being charitable and slipshod if you’re not. The contemporary dance which forms the backbone of the show lacks grace; sometimes the group aren’t in time when they dance together. The soundtrack, blasted through banks of huge speakers, is earsplittingly loud – at least one audience member had their fingers in their ears. The play’s conclusion feels improvisatory, and not in a good way: an unfunny free association rant delivered in an awkward declamatory tone.
There’s still plenty to enjoy. The choreography is not afraid of camp and slapstick excess, while also being genuinely creepy at times and highlighting the undercurrent of violence in a competitive jobs market. The troupe also has a good eye for absurd observational comedy. When George gets a last minute haircut to look his best for J., the hairdresser (Percy) conducts a brief dance with him while muttering “small talk, small talk, small talk, credit card details”. George, not looking best pleased with his new look, reluctantly pays up.
At only 40 minutes the performance feels a little slight and never lives us to the excellent, abrasive piece of audience interaction at the start of the show. While it initially promises to offer a fresh take on underpaid and overworked millennials, the group never commit to exploring the issue in any depth.
Once the show’s over (don’t sit on the front row, you’ll see why), the three performers call for more new physical theatre from young people. They’re right: contemporary-dance-based physical theatre deserves to be more mainstream than it is. We should also remember that this is Ctngcy Theatre’s first show, and it’s not lacking in ambition. This shaky start may merely be a prelude to the troupe truly finding their feet.
George played at Theatre N16 from 24 to 25 April