As I sat in the Soho Theatre waiting for Running on Empty to begin, I had no idea what to expect. The stage is mostly bare, except for the small music corner situated downstage right, and a bamboo crucifix covered in fairy lights behind it. What Antonia Grove – Artistic Director of Probe – and director Jo McInnes have concocted is an absurdist mix of dance, song and drama, designed to tell the stories of a man and woman and their encounters over time through dreams and fears.
It’s a thoughtful and interesting hour-long performance, but quite honestly the absurdist storyline went over my head a fair way. Beginning with a song by Grove, accompanied by collaborator and composer Scott Smith, it then becomes a whirlwind of powerful, repetitive choreography featuring Grove and collaborator Greig Cooke, set to an inventive amalgamation of sounds. We see what I understood to be the pair of dancers floating in the sea, before fighting and then, in a moment of utter madness, impersonating various animals. This evoked much hilarity from the audience – although I’m not sure whether we were collectively laughing at the content itself, or at the actors throwing themselves into imitations of elephants.
Whilst I was unsure what to make of much of the content of the show, there is no denying the talents of its three performers. Antonia Grove is a beautiful, graceful contemporary dancer, full of attack, and is easily matched by her partner in this piece, Greig Cooke. He too packs a punch, performing the inventive choreography that holds much repetitiveness and much of the story. They are both accompanied by the experimental sounds created by Scott Smith, featuring guitars, clarinets and various objects – the music matching the flawless dancing most of the way through. The subtle lighting design by Beky Stoddart also frames the piece perfectly, greatly helping along the narration of the scenes.
Feeling like I was in a dream state for most of the performance, I still can’t make up my mind on what I learnt from the piece. From looking at the programme, there is a quote from Diarmuid O’Murchu that says: “The aborigines believe that every person essentially exists eternally in the Dreaming”. I guess if this is the effect that Probe want to have on their audience, it works perfectly, although I couldn’t help feeling a little lost in the process.
Running on Empty is playing the Soho Theatre until 16 February. For more information and tickets see the Soho Theatre website.