Played for keeps
Lily James wants to join in the party and share in the joy of Celebration – she's just worried she won't get to stay
Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet are like two genius twins that have grown up in an attic full of art history books, Vogue magazines and crafting supplies. They feel neither of the world nor apart from it: they see it through a dark kaleidoscope.
After their first dance, you feel like an intruder walking in: they guiltily and methodically pick up silly string, but we’re all on their side, we want them to keep going. We (I) want to play, I don’t want my mum to come and pick me up. I hope that there’s a spare bunkbed.
Credit to the performers and to Lissy Stowell for a dance that looks like it might have a name, and you could learn it like a clapping game.
They tread a line between connectivity with the audience, and a profound and exclusive intimacy with each other. When they tell each other what they’re looking forward to, it’s this mix. I’m looking forward to learning how to forage, says Kulvichit. The audience beam. I’m looking forward to meeting your grandchildren, he says. A magic circle is drawn around the pair in permanent marker.
This is confirmed by the moments when they leap into each other’s arms and carry each other around the stage. It’s the play-fighting of people that want to touch and be touched. It’s Marina and Ulay drawn by Quentin Blake.
Kulvichit has a lyrical and sensuous attitude to language. He gets why the word tryst will make people laugh. Among the bombastic descriptions of Trump, tripping in a couture gown, there’s lines like, “When I give up hope I think I will go blind.” There’s just enough here to mourn as well as delight.
Potter-Sweet plays less for laughs, and the production benefits from her sincerity: she’s more aloof than Kulvichit, her contributions more abstract. She performs with an internal focus: the accordion accompaniment to their shanty-like song about killjoys isn’t played for laughs, and is wistful and luscious.
The idea is always being spoken that joy exists on the knife edge of catastrophe and fear. I worry for them, that this bedroom-joy isn’t enough to combat anything that exists beyond the pink and green Wendy House they wheel on. That the sprawl that they redesign in their heads, of golf courses, of town halls, the land of Trumps, dumps and putting greens can’t be painted gold.
In this way, it’s a lot like a microcosm of NSDF itself. Full to the brim with verve and good dance moves, but all within a house that’s built of paper that’s only big enough for so many.
I want to know how to use this joy.
I’m not sure if wanting to use joy means that I don’t understand much about joy at all.
Sean O’Driscoll as guest performer burst the bubble onstage, which is good and bad. Spoken honestly and without much analysis, he lists what’s good in a life, and what’s bad. It’s the play’s first glimpse into the end of games and the beginning of duty, responsibility and family. By definition it tonally jars.
The production value is solid, and in and amongst all this performed naivety, someone, probably producer Emily Davis, has created a whip-smart and coherent aesthetic. It’s a production with one eye on how it might photograph. A red satin gown with Dunlop Green Flash trainers feels torn from a mood board of Pretty in Pink, Michelle and Romy’s High School Reunion, old Lily Allen videos.
It’s play that makes you want them to keep playing. I want to buy them a haunted mansion to live in together. And then wait for them to host their first party.
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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato