When Camilla Milverton, student of St. Luke’s College, fails to evacuate her room during a fire alarm, a woman is seen knocking on her door via CCTV. What ensues is the police investigation of an apparent murder, available to watch via YouTube link.
The Dancing Men is relatively short at 30 minutes, but manages to tell a fast-paced story with bold characters and noteworthy formal and graphic elements. This is a perfect production for every aspect of pandemic viewing: it’s digital, short (for the new lows reached every day by our/my attention span), interactive at a distance, and doesn’t require too much work from its audience, though does accommodate those who still have functioning brain-cells.
Whilst this is certainly a student production, and one which isn’t pretending to take itself too seriously, the editing and organisation of the performance gives it an air of professionalism. The decision to present the narrative exclusively through interviews, CCTV, and bodycam footage brings it as close to immersive theatre as one can get from their bedroom. Even the sound editing makes it feel as though you are reviewing evidence in real-time with Inspectors Demuth and Jackson. The whole crew behind this production are worthy of praise for their resourcefulness, having produced a piece which works with, rather than against, its unusual circumstances. The post-show codebreaking ties into this, given that most people wouldn’t want to show up their poor skills of deduction in a theatre, but alone it makes for a genuinely engaging and well-thought activity.
I must also mention the ease with which the cast seems to have taken to socially-distanced performance. Without being able to film the scenes together, it must have been more challenging than usual to portray lively dialogue, but it is a challenge that they certainly overcame. Even with syntax that was quite literary (an interesting nod to the piece’s Doylean origins), every cast member was firmly in character throughout. Grace de Souza in particular gave a very convincing performance as Lesley Armstrong (definitely not somebody I would want as a tutor).
My only criticism is of a couple of scenes that dragged very slightly, but this seems like an irrelevant criticism of an unpretentious production that otherwise ticks every box for easy viewing. While it is nothing ground-breaking, it seems like a project that was a lot of fun to work on, and just as fun to watch. Other theatre companies planning shows in and out of the pandemic should perhaps take note of how Not the Way Forward Productions uses challenges to its advantage.