Words by Sarah Lapinsky. ‘Out Late’ is the second production created by Wayne Parsons in collaboration with writer Ankur Bahl.
A dance-theatre crime drama centring around a love triangle between a wife, her “fiercely-closeted” husband and an ex-military chef/private investigator with more secrets than we know. Sign me up.
On Saturday November 20th I walk into the black box theatre of The Place to find it has been transformed into the round with seats on all four sides. I settle into my seat and take in the setting designed by Rosa Maggiora as audience members chatter with pre-show wonder. A chalk circle outlines the performing space, two light stands peer on from either side, two abstract props appearing to be made out of some PVC pipe sit across from each other and a small black camera watches from a tripod in the corner closest to me.
As I read the programme notes from my phone, I feel an eerie sense of surveillance as I observe myself being watched from across the way; I look towards that small camera in the corner again. What will the viewers across from me see from their perspective? Can I trust what I see if I don’t have the full view? These inquiries play in my mind as the lights darken and the piece begins with a loud rumbling coming over the speaker.
Lights up on a striking image of a man, Vinnie, lying on the floor with a couple, Fiona and Sebastian, reaching over him while they shift frantically front to back. As the couples’ shifting goes in and out of sync, Vinnie delivers a monologue from the Afterlife about death, the “unnaturalness” of murder and presents his main purpose of awakening, discovering “Who killed me?”
As he walks to the corner and watches on from the dark, Sebastian and Fiona, in glowing golden light, begin a duet describing the evolution of their relationship. Through meeting and longing, marriage and support, and pregnancy to miscarriage, we see their relationship crack and a distance creeps in. As Sebastian spends the work week away from Fiona, her suspicions grow, resulting in a call to an anonymous investigator (Vinnie) asking him to trail her husband.
Multi-coloured lights flicker and dance music pounds as we watch the formation of Vinnie and Sebastian’s relationship in a club. A casual flirtation leads to a beautiful scene of intimacy between them. We see Sebastian freely expressing his sexuality, but also realizing his confusion and deceit. While Vinnie, still working for Fiona, sets up the camera in the corner to film Sebastian’s betrayal, but informs Fiona that Sebastian remains faithful. At this point, I am working to make my case for who killed Vinnie; the clues are on the board and the strings are starting to have tension, though I am not sure where everyone stands.
As one relationship progresses, the other deteriorates and Sebastian and Fiona enter a scene of marriage counseling with fidgeting, unsettled bodies. In a unique moment of the work, the couple replays their “date night” as they are tethered together by a strong rope attached to their waists. They rotate around each other increasing in speed and momentum as their conversation escalates from pleasantries to arguments. At the height of their argument, the two are running around each other as they continuously fall and reset; they have no way of stopping this momentum until Fiona pulls them together to unhook Sebastian.
Throughout the piece, the text by Ankur Bahl, gives just the right amount of context so that the audience knows what is happening, but can never quite be sure we have the full information. Parsons manipulates the text with repetition and how it is performed to create contradictions between the characters’ bodies and words. What can we trust to be true?
Later on, Sebastian and Vinnie take a romantic stroll around the stage as Fiona flips and thrashes behind them, expressing her frustration and loss. The irony of having her unseen by the couple in their bliss, yet so highly visible to the audience reads like poetry. Subsequently, Vinnie manipulates his way into staying at Fiona and Sebastian’s flat, a move that puts me on edge knowing it will ultimately lead to his death.
The physicality of the performers is impressive and absolutely justified within the story; the drama of the story is held within the intensity of the movements describing the feelings these characters experience. The performers, Folu Odimayo, Caldonia Walton and Stuart Waters, masterfully portray their characters with commitment and realism. The partnering throughout the work ranges from loving and intimate to violent and combative at the right moments, with every note of subtly hit in between.
The final scene of the show plays on Sebastian and Fiona’s interviews with the police about Vinnie’s murder. Tension builds through the repetition of their stories and Vinnie pokes holes from the Afterlife, correcting them and calling out their lies though they cannot see or hear him (reminiscent of Fiona’s role earlier in the piece). Secrets are revealed, the couple is shaken and the puzzle begins to come together as Vinnie delivers a piercing monologue contemplating how people will do anything to protect themselves and maintain the status quo. The denials that tormented and controlled the characters all along are finally revealed, but does the truth really set you free? Does the truth really matter, if it has already been done?
If you would like to see Out Late for yourself, it will be streaming online 2-8 December via Swindon Dance Online Platform.
Choreographer and Director: Wayne Parsons
Writer: Ankur Bahl
Designer: Rosa Maggiora
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare
Composer and Sound Designer: Angus MacRae
Dramaturg: Pooja Ghai
Cast: Folu Odimayo, Caldonia Walton, Stuart WatersMade in association with Stephen Joseph Theatre
Co-commissioned by The Place and Swindon Dance. Header image: Lidia Crisafulli.