I took a trip down to the often ground-breaking Young Vic last night, expecting a show that "conjures the hopes, disillusionment and messy relationships that were the hallmarks of the 1970s and 80s music scene in the UK." What I wasn't expecting was an hour-long gig, complimented with almost non-stop, experimental dance. And I'm afraid to say this reviewer was definitely out of his depth.
The last time I saw beloved actress and singer Jane Horrocks on stage was as Ella Khan in Ayub Khan Din's stage adaptation of 'East is East' at the Trafalgar Studios; a delightful comedy that rested securely in my comfort zone. I applaud her for thinking outside of the box and for her desire to express a different aspect to her artistry this time around. I'm not sure, however, if the Young Vic was the ideal venue for such a project as 'If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me.'
I may be from the same neck of the woods as Ms Horrocks, but I didn't grow up in the same decade, whose music scene was dominated by acts such as Buzzcocks, The Smiths, Morrisey and Joy Division. Had I been a fan of those new wave musicians, I suspect my experience last night and this review would have been an altogether more positive affair. As it is, within the chosen set list, every single song failed to move me.
This is not to say that there wasn't obvious talent on display last night. Ms. Horrocks certainly has stage presence, commanding each number with her petite form and platinum blonde bob. The four young dancers were also mesmerizing at times, under the direction of choreographer Aletta Collins. The dancers often moved erratically, sometimes tormentedly and regularly alienating. There were moments of unity as they came together to celebrate a shared experience and there were longer instances, where each dancer seemed to be lost in his/her own world, independent of each other's routines; a true reflection of life's journey - often on your own path, aside from those wonderful moments when your soul connects with another.
Horrocks gives her own renditions of fourteen new wave hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s, which she describes as an "archaeological exercise" into her own past and the memories that obviously deeply impacted her younger years. With next to no narrative and the lack of personal anecdotes, however, it seems to be a tough ask for audience members to identify with her or feel any connection to that era, if they haven't lived through it themselves. I tend to shy away from words like self-indulgence because it's a natural thing for artists to create deeply personal work. You write about what you know, after all. But I do feel that it's the responsibility of that artist to find ways of engaging the audience in the material. Sadly, I found myself disengaged and left wishing to be included in the club.
The audience last night seemed tranquil and unsure of how to react to what they were witnessing. This is probably due to the demographic of some of the crowd and the fact that the venue was an all-seated, West End theatre. If it had taken place in a retro dive somewhere in Camden, with frayed posters pealing off the walls and with a beer-soaked floor that meant your feet were stuck to it within twenty minutes, then I believe 'If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me' would have had much more of an impact. I fantasised about that exact setting during Ms Horrocks' rendition of "Nag Nag Nag" last night, but she was dressed as Bubble from "Absolutely Fabulous" and Eddie and Patsy were slumped up against the wall under the influence of some long-forgotten halucinogens. Alas, I snapped back to reality, returning to a comfy seat amongst puzzled theatregoers.