The Traverse
8-16 August, 16:45

The Red RoomMy personal experience of dance came to an abrupt end when, aged four, I was escorted howling from my ballet class because I apparently had a horror of “sweeping leaves”. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I discovered I was going to a Dance/ Physical Theatre adaptation of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, the story of how a horrific disease (swine flu?!) catches up with a heartless noble and his equally ne’er-do-well friends, having barricaded themselves off from their suffering subjects.

Throughout The Red Room, I was torn between being very impressed by the immense strength, athleticism and talent of the performers, and somewhat bemused as to what exactly was going on. I got the gist: the dancers succeeded in illustrating the frightening debauchery and hedonism of the piece, with moments which powerfully demonstrated the fine line between “fun” – reminiscent of playground bullying and immature sexual innuendo – and cruelty amounting to torture, rape and death, exceptionally represented by a terrifyingly stylised ‘puppetry’ scene.

However in some sections, though I could guess vaguely what was happening, I was far from sure; I was very glad of the synopsis on the programme, which at least pointed me in the right direction!  Often I was uncertain whether people were meant to be dying or were writhing on the floor for complex personal reasons. What also confused me was that, in an almost exclusively dance-told story, the only two recognisable words -“after you” – seemed to me to have limited significance.

To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this piece to someone who, like me, knows little about Poe and nothing about dance; on the other hand, it was a beautifully polished and grotesquely powerful performance, which is well worth seeing if you do.

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