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Dancing On Your Grave
Published on Saturday, 22 May 2010

I’ve seen the names of The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs before, and didn’t know how to say them (Chumleys and Fanshaws apparently).  Having crossed this pronunciation barrier, I could then only expect the unexpected from their billing – under ‘dance and physical theatre’ – as a music hall artistes’ tour through purgatory. This was not an easy choice for the last Friday night of the Fringe! But I got a lot more than I bargained for, with musician / songwriters Steve Blake and Nigel Burch as heart and soul of the performance. (In passing, how come the choreographer got a mention in the blurb, but not them?)

In simple terms, this act consists of five very different body shapes in uniform white face paint, resembling costumed ghosts of their former selves. Two Chumleys and a Fanshaw dance to the ditties of Blake and Burch, accompanied by banjo and ukulele. At this level it is sheer entertainment. The deadpan expressions of the five contrast with a quirky humour generated by skilfully-composed and easy-to-absorb lyrics, which convey a light-hearted commentary on life; it was very funny.

This is a performance about death and the afterlife, and what might have been but never was; it both states the predicament of life often lived as in limbo, and questions it too. Beneath the surface it’s a profound and ironically lively performance in which, like in life, everyone plays their part. Expertly choreographed, the show combines solo pieces from each dancer and a harmonic quintet, with the interesting result that it’s easy to pinpoint outstanding individual performances; I particularly liked Maho Ihara, whose display of a series of takes on suicide (honestly, it wasn’t in bad taste, and it was very funny) had me wonder at the ease with which she contorted her limbs.

Despite the strong individual contributions though, this whole is so much more than its parts. I’m not sure it will appeal to everyone – whilst humorous, it’s about death, after all – and this is the reason for withholding that last half star. That said, last night’s audience stamped their feet in applause! But even if you’re not tempted to take a punt on this unusual and inventive performance, preferring to stick to something a little less dark, you might nevertheless be inspired by these lines… which resound in my head even after a night’s sleep: “Get out of your box! Better to regret what you’ve done than what you haven’t! Life is short, death is not! Every day is a holiday from death!”

For an act which at the outset was indescribable, the conclusion is surprisingly easy. I now pronounce them marvellous!

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.